The Trump Team Plan for NASA Is Scaring Scientists

November 23rd 2016

Dave Fonseca

Under a Donald Trump administration, NASA may spend less time studying our planet more time looking to the stars.


According to a report published in Scientific American on Wednesday, a scientific policy advisor to the president-elect says the administration will divert agency funding away from Earth sciences — which includes the study of climate change — toward planetary exploration.

Trump advisor Robert Walker, who is a former chairman of the U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, told Scientific American the plan would address concerns that other NASA programs were being "robbed in order to concentrate on Earth science." Walker added that the Trump administration wanted to "reestablish the emphasis of NASA itself on the things that go beyond Earth orbit and Earth-observation activities."

In a separate interview with The Guardian, Walker conceded climate research is necessary, but claimed that too much of NASA's work is "heavily politicized."

The Scientific American highlights a serious partisan rift over NASA's role.

After deep cuts during the President George W. Bush years, NASA's earth sciences budget has reached about $2 billion annually under the Obama administration, despite the efforts of congressional Republicans to re-allocate NASA funds toward space exploration.

arctic calving

Walker's comments suggests Republican efforts to eliminate NASA's earth sciences budget will go forward with the support of the president's office.

In an October op-ed for Space News co-written with fellow Trump advisor Peter Navarro, Walker argued "NASA should be focused primarily on deep space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies."

To those who rely on climate data provide by NASA satellites, the Trump administration's ambitions are deeply concerning.

"NASA does a lot of work observing the Earth and providing some highly valued data sets for the scientific community, so it would be highly damaging if they stopped doing that," Julien Emile-Geay, a associate professor of Earth sciences at the University of Southern California, told ATTN:.

For example, Emile-Geay noted that research conducted through NASA satellites was instrumental in determining that parts of California were rapidly sinking due to over-pumping of groundwater during the state's historic drought. The research prompted increased conservation spending and a state-wide evaluation of the sinking lands.

California drought is drying out agriculture

"NASA provides some of the most influential and important data to understand our water resources," Emile-Geay said. "It would be completely suicidal to cut it off."

NASA also produces the monthly GISS Surface Temperature Analysis, which has consistently documented the rise of global temperature to unprecedented levels. Trump told the New York Times this week he believes there is "some connectivity" between human behavior and climate change, despite having previously stated that human influenced climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese government.