There are serious concerns over the fate of NASA’s Earth science programs, in light of planned policies being released by president-elect Donald Trump. The Trump campaign’s space policy advisor, Robert Smith Walker, has stated that they plan to “redirect NASA budgets towards deep space achievements rather than Earth-centric climate change spending.”
This planned shift to an outward focus comes at a point in history when the scientific community is struggling against time to improve our understanding of the Earth’s climate, a massive, complex system that gives every sign that it is preparing to undergo a major upheaval. A policy that turns a blind eye toward what the Earth’s climate is doing appears to be par for the course for an incoming administration that professes that climate change is a hoax, and plans to promote an increase in fossil fuel use.
NASA turned its eye back toward Earth in the early eighties, applying the agency’s particular skills at studying our Blue Marble home. And despite having suffered near-continual funding cutbacks since the Apollo era, NASA’s Earth sciences programs have seen increases in funding under the Obama administration.
Speaking at the COMSTAC meeting last October, Walker implied that current Earth sciences research would be better handled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: “In general, what I’d say is a lot of these missions that NASA is now doing are probably more appropriately done by NOAA. There would have to be some budget adjustments in order for NOAA to assume those kinds of responsibilities.”
While this implies that the Trump administration wouldn’t be outright ignoring funding for climate monitoring and research, removing NASA from the table excludes a major tool for verifying the observations being made, as independent data from both NASA and NOAA could be used to verify observed climatological changes.
But perhaps more importantly, Walker is forgetting the problem that the otherwise Earth-bound NOAA relies on NASA’s expertise when it comes to the development and operation of satellite missions. Simply shifting NASA’s funding to NOAA would do little to allow NOAA to take over the operation of current satellite missions, and even less to allow them to develop future orbital observational abilities.