Cruz to Mars
Last week Senator Ted Cruz (TX), who recently took over the chair of the Space, Science and Competitiveness subcommittee, opined to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden that NASA has become distracted from its “core mission” by studying climate change. Here is Cruz’s own press release on the subject, which includes the chart on increased spending for earth science that got the senator all bothered.
It’s a remarkably deceptive chart. The huge bar representing a 41% increase in funding for studying “earth science” (what a big tent that category is) stands in dramatic contrast to the 7.6% decrease in “exploration and space operations” — yet there is no indication of real dollars spent. Let’s look at NASA’s budget fact sheet and see what the numbers are.
Science – $5,289 million
- $1,947 million for Earth Science including a plan to continue the 42-year Landsat record of global land-imaging measurements.
- $1,361 million for Planetary Science including formulation of a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa.
- $709 million for Astrophysics including the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
- $620 million to keep the James Webb Space Telescope on track for launch in 2018.
- $651 million for Heliophysics including keeping Solar Probe Plus on track for launch in 2018.
- Continues development of 35 missions toward launch and operation of 60 missions producing leading edge science.
- Funds over 10,000 U.S. scientists in universities, industry, and government labs through over 3,000 openly competed research awards.
It should be evident that sciences directed toward exploration and understanding of the solar system and the universe get plenty of budgetary attention. Go read the rest and poke around NASA’s budgets and plans portal. As indicated above, Earth Science comprises roughly 37% of NASA’s scientific budget, reflecting one of the agency’s strategic goals to understand the effect of climate change on the earth, its inhabitants and to create technologies that help us cope with these changes, and “improve the quality of life on our home planet.”
Why Cruz objects to this, beyond his own convictions that climate change is bunk, seems to reflect his own myopic understanding of how the earth fits within the solar system or relates to space exploration. It’s like the false dichotomy between mind and body: much as Cartesians mistakenly assumed the mind is a separate entity housed within a clumsy vessel, the earth of Cruz looks outward into space, unaware that it is part of a complex solar, galactic and universal matrix of systems. Why bother with all this climatology stuff when there’s money to be made from sending people on one-way missions to Mars? So what if they die within 68 days? The point is to get there, plant our flag, and wave Uncle Sam’s dick in China’s face.
Note that my timeline for landing on Mars is 15 years later than the promises of the Mars One project, which confidently proposes to send four people to the red planet by 2023 — a mere 8 years from now! The magical thinking of the crowd-funded space projects of billionaires is a cartoon for another time.