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Trump's Plans For NASA Are Entirely Out of Sync With What Most Americans Want

8 JUN 2018

President Trump is determined to send astronauts back to the Moon, but that isn't what most Americans want from their national space agency.

A new study from the Pew Research Center has revealed that the Trump administration's plans for NASA are wildly out of sync with the public's wishes.


When 2,541 Americans were asked to list their goals for NASA, the top priority went to climate research, with 63 percent of respondents saying they want the space agency to monitor key parts of the Earth's climate system.

The very lowest priority was sending astronauts back to the moon, gaining a mere 13 percent of respondents.

Unsurprisingly, Democrats were more gung-ho about Earth climate research than Republicans. But even still, 44 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters agree that Earth climate research should be a top priority for NASA, and a further 38 percent said it should be an important but lower priority.

Screen Shot 2018 06 08 at 10.11.43 am(Pew Research Center)

In any event, the Trump administration has other plans. Last year, President Trump ordered NASA to prioritize putting humans on the Moon, signing the "Space Policy Directive 1."

"The directive I am signing today will refocus America's space program on human exploration and discovery," Trump said at the signing.

Meanwhile, as Trump reshuffles NASA's priorities, his administration is doing everything in their power to undermine the agency's Earth climate research.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has twice called for cuts to NASA's Earth science budget and other climate missions. Last year, five Earth science missions were axed from the agency altogether.


"They [NASA] have stopped promoting or emphasizing climate science communication, they have minimized it," Laura Tenenbaum, a former NASA science communicator, told The Guardian.

"People inside the agency are concerned that Trump will cut climate science funding. There is a fear and an anxiety there and the outcome has been chaos."

In May of 2018, the Trump administration quietly killed NASA's Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) - a $10 million-a-year research project, which monitors the flow of Earth's carbon.

Without the CMS, the Trump administration has jeopardized the world's ability to measure the carbon emission cuts agreed to in the Paris climate accord.

"If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement," Kelly Sims Gallagher, the director of Tufts University's Center for International Environment and Resource Policy, told Science.

She added that canceling the CMS "is a grave mistake."

Still, no matter how many scientists speak out against the measure, NASA has declined to provide a reason for the cancellation of the CMS beyond "budget constraints and higher priorities within the science budget."


But while NASA may not consider Earth science research a high priority, the new survey suggests the public most certainly does.

In response to the Pew study, the March for Science has released a petition, calling on Jim Bridenstine, the new head of NASA, to make a firm commitment to the American people that he will allow NASA to continue monitoring our changing planet.

"Bridenstine has no formal science background and, at the time he was appointed as NASA head by Congress, had questioned the scientific consensus on climate change. Recently, he indicated that his perspective on climate change had shifted," the petition reads.

"This is encouraging, but we need a commitment to documenting and taking action on climate change - not just an acknowledgment of the consensus agreed on by scientists and the majority of the American public alike," it adds.

As the petition correctly points out, Bridenstine's candidacy as NASA administrator has been shrouded in controversy. In the past, Bridenstine has questioned the reality of human-caused climate change, and he has proposed moving Earth science research out of NASA altogether.


On both counts, Bridenstine appears to have had a change of heart.

While still a nominee, Bridenstine assured Senators that "NASA will continue to follow the guidance of the Earth Science decadal surveys and I will advocate within the Administration and with Congress to see that the agency is able to carry out the recommendations of those decadal surveys."

Shortly after taking his official post at NASA, Bridenstine changed his tune on climate change as well.

"The National Climate Assessment, that includes NASA, and it includes the Department of Energy, and it includes NOAA, has clearly stated it is extremely likely, [that] is the language they use, that human activity is the dominant cause of global warming, and I have no reason to doubt the science that comes from that," Bridenstine told Congress.

Now, the March for Science is calling on science advocates and concerned members of the public to send a letter to Bridenstine, urging him to keep his word.

The study has been published by the Pew Research Center.

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