Sun. Mar 26th, 2023
This is the Globe Sculpture at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, located at 59th Street and Columbus Circle in New York City.
Enlarge / This is the Globe Sculpture at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, located at 59th Street and Columbus Circle in New York City.

Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images

The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States is likely to end a golden age of Earth sciences at NASA. While not much is known about Trump’s overall space policy, beyond his commitment to “global space leadership” and support for commercial spaceflight, his views on Earth sciences and climate change are largely in line with the appropriators of the Republican Congress.

In terms of funding, NASA’s Earth science programs have had a good run under the Obama administration. The agency’s Earth sciences budget has grown about 50 percent during Obama’s tenure, while much of the rest of NASA’s science budget has stayed the same.

And users have responded. A week ago, NASA’s Office of the Inspector General released a report on the state of the agency’s Earth science programs, and it offered a mostly favorable assessment. Perhaps most notable was the rapid increase in the use of data collected by NASA satellites over the planet by government agencies, scientists, private entities and other stakeholders. Since 2000, the report found, the number of data products NASA has provided to users has increased from 8.14 million to a whopping 1.42 billion in 2015.

But the increase in funding for earth sciences under Obama caused growing frustration among Republicans in the House and Senate, who said the agency should focus on exploring worlds other than Earth. For example, at a 2015 hearing on NASA’s Earth science programs, Texas Senator Ted Cruz said, “We’ve seen a disproportionate increase in the amount of federal funds going to the Earth science program at the expense of funding for exploration and space operations. We’ve seen planetary sciences, heliophysics and astrophysics, all of which I think are rooted in exploration and should be central to NASA’s core mission.We need to get back to the hard sciences, to human space exploration and to the innovation that has been an integral part of NASA.

While Trump has no formal advisers on space policy, his campaign has asked former Congressman Robert Walker to draft a space policy that appears to align with those congressional priorities. At a meeting last month at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, Walker fleshed out that vision, including earth sciences.

To that end, Walker said, NASA should focus on deep space achievements rather than Earth sciences. Like several Republicans in Congress, Walker also suggested that Earth science missions should be turned over to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, he added that “some budget adjustments would be required” as part of the transfer.

So while it’s less clear how NASA’s overall space policy will change under a Trump administration, it seems pretty certain that he’ll try to reverse President Obama’s increases in Earth science funding. The irony is that NASA’s focus on Earth sciences really crystallized during the Reagan and Bush administrations. Many of the satellites praised by NASA’s inspector general earlier this month trace their origins to those two Republican presidents.

By akfire1

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