Common Science

On Friday, the White House announced President Trump’s plans to nominate Representative James Bridenstine, R-Okla., to serve as NASA’s next administrator.

Critics are wary of a politician leading an agency of science and technology, according to Science Magazine, especially because of his views on climate change and his desire to open space up for commercial access.

Bridenstine is a known advocate for drawing in private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin and has written about the commercial potential of exploiting the moon’s resources.

“If he pivots toward the moon, he may pivot away from Mars science, as some of his colleagues in Congress have sought to do,” said John Logsdon, founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institue, to Science Magazine.

At a time when NASA’s leadership structure is undergoing changes, so is its budget, which is important to be aware of as we move toward 2018.

Trump’s proposed annual budget calls for giant cuts in scientific and medical research, disease prevention programs, health insurance and space exploration. If Congress approves the budget request, NASA will lose $561 million of its annual budget.

Although this is only a 3 percent decrease from the 2017 budget, the cuts would shut down NASA’s education program along with four climate-related satellite missions.

The first of these missions is the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a satellite currently in space between Earth and the sun. Because of its unique perspective about a million miles away, according to National Geographic, it can take clear images of the planet and track its detailed changes.

In addition to taking pictures, DSCOVR monitors solar wind, or the charged particles being flung outward by the sun. These particles create colorful auroras and can even produce roiling geomagnetic storms.

The decision to cut funding to a working satellite already in space confuses Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Climate Analysis Section.

“You’ve got the thing up there, it’s functioning already, and it’s producing these spectacular pictures and information that has never been seen before,” Trenberth told National Geographic.

The second project that would be cut is the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Environment (PACE) mission. PACE is set to launch within the next five to six years and will keep an eye on the seas, which is crucial to understanding how the planet responds to climate change. According to National Geographic, carbon from burning fossil fuels is largely returned to the sea where plankton convert it to energy and oxygen.

The third Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-3) would be installed on the Japanese module of the International Space Station in 2018 to investigate questions about the distribution of carbon dioxide as it relates to growing urban populations and fossil fuel combustion, according to NASA.

It was built from leftover parts of OCO-2, which has been monitoring global carbon dioxide levels since 2014 by tracking the brightness of sunlight reflected off of Earth’s surface. Based on how much light gets absorbed, scientists are able to tell how many gas molecules must have been present. This enables climate scientists to better understand how the atmosphere, land and ocean exchange carbon dioxide with one another.

The last mission that would be cut is the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder. According to National Geographic, this instrument is designed to take detailed measurements of variables essential for predictions about climate change.

CLARREO would be launched in the 2020s and offer scientists the type of data they need to produce highly-accurate climate records, which could inform political decisions about how to respond to the threats of climate change, including rising sea levels, rising global temperatures and declining air quality.

In addition to cuts to NASA’s budget, steep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would eliminate the agency’s international work on climate and funding for the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s effort to regulate carbon emissions of power plants.

Cuts to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would defund marine management and research, including the Sea Grant program, which helps prepare U.S. coastal communities for rising sea levels.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Trenberth told National Geographic. “It seems to me that monitoring the planet is very much in that category. If we have information that can mitigate or prevent natural disasters, or provide forecasts for better planning, then it’s well worth it.”

Rachael Snodgrass is the opinion editor. Follow her on Twitter @RachaelReneeee.