Congress to NASA: Study Space! (Not Climate. That's Not Space.)

Members of Congress are asking something novel of NASA: to actually study space, not global warming. Representatives Bill Posey (R-FL), Sandy Adams (R-FL), Rob Bishop (R-UT) and others have sent a letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) and Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) asking for NASA to launch their efforts in a new direction -- the old one.

For many years, NASA has been spending vast sums of money to study global warming, despite the efforts already undertaken at other federal agencies where such research is more appropriate. The letter asks that NASA refocus on what it was created to do, which is to maintain and develop our space program.

The amount of money being spent to study global warming, as a percentage of NASA’s budget, is startling -- especially when one considers this is not part of NASA’s original mission. In budget year 2010, NASA spent 7.5% of its funding -- over $1B -- to study global warming. On top of that -- the vast majority of federal stimulus money given to NASA in 2010 was spent on studying global warming.

As a whole, the U.S. federal government has spent $8.7 billion dollars on global warming studies -- just in the past year! Many of the sixteen separate agencies doing this work were performing redundant research. In a time of federal spending cuts that are sure to come, much of this redundancy certainly can and must be eliminated, saving taxpayers billions. Certainly NASA should be one of the first to see funding drastically cut, or eliminated entirely, in this area.

The principal arm of global warming research for NASA is the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). That’s “Space” Studies, not climate. The Institute is located in New York City on the campus of Columbia University. The homepage of GISS states:

Research at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) emphasizes a broad study of global change.

No mention of anything to do with space exploration. How odd. The overview continues:

… which is an interdisciplinary initiative addressing natural and man-made changes in our environment that occur on various time scales -- from one-time forcings such as volcanic explosions, to seasonal and annual effects such as El Niño, and on up to the millennia of ice ages -- and that affect the habitability of our planet.

Under the section titled “More Research News & Features,” there are seven different news items, all dealing with global warming. Nothing about space or manned space missions or anything at all up there. It’s as if GISS has launched itself into an entirely different orbit, unrelated to its founding documents. The Goddard Institute for Climate Studies would be a much more accurate representation, though I think Dr. Robert Goddard would be surprised to learn how much influence he must have had in the field of climate research, rather than in developing liquid fueled rockets.