Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, August 04, 2006

"To Understand and Protect our Home Planet"

These were the first seven words of NASA's mission statement until February of this year, when the Bush Administration budget quietly deleted them.

In some form or another, the mission to "understand" our home planet had been part of NASA's mission statements since the beginning. The addition of a mission to "protect" our planet grew from a confluence of ideas: the new so-called "war" on terror, and concerns about global climate change. The latter was explicitly mentioned in many documents for years. The words were added by the previous NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe (a Bush appointee) in 2002, as part of an open, agency-wide process.

Why the change? The NY Times speculates that the phrase was a casualty of the public relations war between the Bush administration and the eminent Dr. Hansen--an outspoken critic of Bush administration climate policy whom a Bush appointee at NASA had tried to silence last year. Dr. Hansen had repeatedly referred to the mission statement as support for his efforts to focus attention on the issue of global climate change.

A NASA spokesman of course called that a "coincidence" and claimed instead that the change was enacted to bring the agency in line with Bush's goal of human spaceflight to Mars (announced 01/14/2004). Well, to that extent that the Bush administration is trying to shift NASA's focus away from understanding and protecting our planet, this is certainly correct. For example, NASA's current administrator Michael Griffin had initially promised that "not one thin dime" of scientific research would be sacrificed for the Mars missions... but now, $3 billion has been cut from space science programs. (According to NASA, these programs have merely been "delayed".)

But Bush is not serious about going to Mars anyway, as this nice graph illustrates. Bush's original estimate for the short term budget was $12 billion over five years, of which much would come from mothballing the Space Shuttle by 2010 (apparently ignoring any provision for a replacement) and of which the remainder would come from a modest 5% annual increase. To put that in perspective, the current NASA budget is hovering around $16 billion, which is only half (in real terms) of what it was during the Apollo project.

But the cost of going to Mars is far higher even in the short term. In addition to what has already been spent, NASA currently estimates the exploration program will need $30 billion over the next five years--and even at this pace, NASA estimates the earliest possible date for a manned Mars landing would be in 2030. Five percent increases won't do diddly to get us to Mars, and that's all irrelevant anyway since Bush has not even carried through on the increases. Last year was 3.8%, for example.

Bush has tried to suppress evidence of global climate change; he has overruled FDA committees to keep RU-486 bottled up; he used his first veto to interfere with life-saving research (which even many Republicans balked at); and now he's so deep into it that he's even mucking with the mission statements. This has got to stop. Vote Democrat and put a stop to Bush's war on science!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that interesting and informative report. Frankly, insted of going to Mars, I'd rather NASA spent money on mapping all the near Earth asteroids and comets as well as researching how (if) we can divert one about to hit us. Climate change research should be up there too. And they should continue to work closely with NOAA on that. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

I think going to Mars is a worthy goal. My concern is that it remains chimerical and fantastical as nobody willdonatethe resources to it. 

// posted by LTG

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