NASA Should Continue Studying Global Warming

Michael Hiltzik - NASA and Global WarmingIn the current political climate, the biggest threat is to Earth science, which is increasingly devoted to climate change. It may not be a coincidence that conservatives in Congress have been systematically trying cut NASA’s Earth Science budget in favor of planetary exploration, albeit unmanned exploration. They argue that the goal is to refocus NASA on its traditional mission. But that’s a smokescreen, because research in climate science has become a major part of NASA’s mission. They’re really displaying their hostility to research that could undermine the fortunes of their patrons, the fossil fuel industry. If Trump’s call for manned planetary exploration is another puff of that smokescreen, it would hardly be surprising.

Sending humans into space would give Americans a sense of mission and grandeur, but that’s mostly a sign of civic immaturity. Take the same sums and spend them on curing disease — whether the biological malady of cancer or the social maladies of poverty and hunger — and pride will surely follow. Keep the astronauts at home, and there will be much more money available to send robots farther out than humans could ever go, and to bring back immeasurably more knowledge.

–Michael Hiltzik
Trump’s Call for Human Space Exploration Is Hugely Wasteful and Pointless

2 thoughts on “NASA Should Continue Studying Global Warming

  1. The US has roughly a 20 trillion dollar GNP, About 20 percent of this flows through the Federal government, where it is used to pay dropping bombs in Afghanistan, wages for postmen, wtc. But alas! society is not perfect and Michael Hiltzik is convinced it could be improved immeasurably, simply by ceasing to spend 6 billion dollars per year on manned space flight, and shifting the money projects he finds worthier. Such as medical research. Need I mention that as a society we spend better than 3 trillion dollars a year on medicine, and that some part of this goes to research?

    Boiled down, Hiltzik is saying “We should stop manned space flight because I don’t like it.”

    Here’s MY idea of better public policy: We should treat professional football like a business, tax it the same way, and eliminate the subsidies we give to build stadiums, etc. Use the money we gain from THAT to pay for the health research Hitzik wants so much. If the sum is still inadequate, we can inflict the same treatment on professional baseball and basketball and a bunch of unnecessary childrens’ sports. What right-minded citizen would not give up Little League for a reliable cure of prostatitis?

    I think this is at least as reasonable as Hiltzik’s notion, perhaps more so.


    • Hah, I just wrote a similar pro sports comment on the “glibertarian” article.

      There are pros and cons to human space flight. On long-distance surface missions (Mars, asteroids), a human can react much faster than a robot hampered by time delay.

      OTOH, space flight is insanely dangerous, and the human missions we have conducted so far would have easily been done cheaper/safer through automation. As Hiltzik’s full article points out, it would have been cheaper to simply build and launch another Hubble with automation to replace the flawed one. If we hadn’t used human space flight.

      There is the PR benefit of seeing brave people go into space. This is hard to measure. I think Trump’s comments show that human space flight and cutting funding for valuable NASA research into climate change can go together. In that instance, human space flight has little usefulness at all.

      However, being thrilled by space bravery can inspire kids to be interested in science. Science educators I admire like Tyson & Nye have said human space flight helped make them interested in science. And now they make other people interested in science. I can’t put a price tag on how great that is.

      So I’m torn on the issue, myself. What I’m not torn on is HOW TOTALLY COOL the NASA app for my phone is! If you don’t have it yet, get it now. It’s absolutely wonderful.

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