As I sit here baking in the summer heat, the hottest summer on record, I discover that NASA will no longer try to understand and protect our home planet. In February of this year, the Bush administration quietly changed the mission statement of NASA. Previously the mission statement called on NASA to “understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers…as only NASA can” with a vision to “improve life here, to extend life there, to find life beyond.” The new mission statement calls on NASA to “pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautical research” with the vision for space exploration to “advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests”.
This change in language is a reflection of what has already been happening in the Bush administrations budgets. Since 2004, we have seen a shift of funds away from projects here on earth to space projects. When explaining the previous mission statement in 2004, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, said the “We have come to understand that the only way to really comprehend our climate and to protect the scarce resources of our little blue planet is to look at the earth as a single whole system….From the unique perspective of space we can see, and more importantly, predict, how dust storms in the Sahara will affect crops in the American Midwest, we can predict how mosquito borne diseases will spread, we can tell a farmer what part of her field needs fertilizer and which part does not.” He went on to say that “Protection includes using our scarce resources to improve life on earth by living in an environmentally sound manner.”
I know President Bush said he did not plan to watch Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. And I suppose they don’t have worry about rolling blackout at the Whitehouse. (What temperature do you think they have the thermostat set at?) Well it is over a 110 degrees Fahrenheit here, I would not mind at all if NASA studies of the earth enabled them to find a way to cool things off a little, or at least not get hotter. It would be nice to understand things that affect our lives dramatically like floods, windstorms, thunderstorms, hailstorms, ice storms, wildfires, droughts, heat waves, and hurricanes. Its not that I do not think we should explore space and seek to advance security and economic interests, I just think it ought to be done in the framework of understanding ourselves and our planet and the things that affect out daily lives and not just the pocketbooks of corporations who seek to profit from the exploration of space. It would have been nice if the Bush administration had actually consulted the scientists whose work they affecting with this change in policy when forming a new mission statement that could have a long-term impact on all out lives.