This week, students and coders in 20 cities across the country voluntarily gathered to collect and back up copies of federal climate data, while on Capitol Hill, lawmakers discussed the future of the Earth Science Mission at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The mission monitors more than a dozen earth science satellites that provide data on the ocean, atmosphere, and biosphere and account for about $2 billion of NASA’s $20 billion budget. Though Earth observing has been a part of the agency’s mandate since its inception, this has been a topic of increasing discussion in recent months. The Trump administration and other Republicans have shown an interest in changing the agency’s direction to turn NASA’s focus away from Earth science and instead on deep-space exploration. Members of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to consider next steps for the space program.
Although most members stated general support for Earth science programs, there was discussion of significant changes in the future. Chairman Lamar Smith (TX-21) stated his intent of “rebalancing” NASA’s programs but ensured, “We’re not going to zero out earth sciences.” He pointed out that multiple agencies study earth science and climate change, but only one engages in space exploration, “and they need every dollar they can muster.” Representative Jim Bridenstine (OK-1), who confirmed he is under consideration to become NASA administrator, did not commit to keeping climate research at NASA and said he is open to swapping parts of programs with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Conversely, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) stressed the importance of mission consistency at the agency, saying “We must be careful not to undo NASA’s progress by changing direction with each new administration.” Dr. Ellen Stofan (Geologist, Former Chief Scientist of NASA) highlighted the importance of Earth science programs, despite their budget remaining flat for more than two decades. She reminded the audience that “The technologies that come out of the investments in the Earth science program spawn new industries. The Earth science program is an investment in this country, and it returns benefits to all of us every day.”