Imagine what our knowledge of the world today would be like without satellite images of Earth. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Earth Sciences mission has fundamentally altered and improved our understanding of the atmosphere, ocean, land, weather, climate, and ecosystems – and now, the resources that support this science are under attack.
The president’s budget recommendations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 would cut NASA’s Earth Science budget by $166.9 million (compared to FY 2017 enacted levels), targeting mission programs such as the Deep Space Climate Observatory and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 satellite. Additionally, the president’s budget proposes elimination of the Office of Education, which inspires young students and awards internships and scholarships for up-and-coming scientists. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science held a hearing on Thursday to discuss this proposed budget with NASA’s acting administrator, Mr. Robert Lightfoot, Jr.
While the proposed budget for Earth Science is nearly 9 percent below the enacted FY 2017 level, the cuts to NASA’s programs for deep space exploration were minor in comparison, at only 0.9 percent. The agency plans on continuing full-steam ahead towards putting a man on Mars by 2033, but many Democrats on the committee were more concerned with these cuts to Earth science programing. Ranking Member José Serrano (NY-15) pointedly asked Mr. Lightfoot, “Shouldn’t we place a top priority on studying the changes happening in our own planet?” Mr. Lightfoot responded that while some of that would continue, “we won’t be able to do it all.”
Most Republican committee members were less interested in having the agency study our own planet, with Representative Steven Palazzo (MS-4) saying, “There are already over a dozen federal agencies that study our Earth, but there’s only one agency tasked with space exploration, and that’s NASA.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Science Foundation also study the changing climate, but notably, these agencies are facing significant potential cuts to their Earth science and geoscience programs as well. Mr. Lightfoot pointed out that Earth is often an analogue for studying other planets.
While NASA’s core mission to discover, explore, and develop typically invokes images of far-away planets and stars, it’s important to remember the critical science NASA supports to aid and further our understanding of our very own planet.