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NASA Stresses Importance of Earth Science Amidst Concerns on Trump’s Space Policy

Nov 16, 2016 04:50 AM EST
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Earth science missions should be given great importance as they increase awareness about environmental challenges, NASA said.

During a briefing about the upcoming launch of the CYGNSS (Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System) mission on Nov. 10 at NASA's headquarters in Washington, the agency took the opportunity to emphasize the importance of Earth science missions, given concerns that the Trump administration may slash funding for the missions, Space News reports.

"NASA's work on Earth science is making a difference in people's lives all around the world every day," Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's new associate administrator for science, said during the briefing. "Earth science helps save lives. It also helps grow companies and creates an awareness of environmental challenges that affect our lives today and tomorrow."

While the statement had no direct reference to political issues, Zurbuchen's comments were made after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump won the elections on Nov. 8. The President-elect's space policy, which only came into focus a few weeks before the elections, involves veering away from being a "logistics agency" for low-Earth orbit activity and refocusing instead on exploration missions.

During a meeting at the Federal Aviation Administration's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), Robert Walker, former Republican congressman and Trump's space policy adviser, included plans to "redirect NASA budgets towards deep space achievements rather than Earth-centric climate change spending."

"NASA should be focused primarily on deep space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies," Walker and Peter Navarro, an economist and public policy expert, wrote in a commentary. "Human exploration of our entire Solar System by the end of this century should be NASA's focus and goal."

A number of Republican members of the Congress share the same position when it comes to Earth-centric NASA missions and has been criticizing the "overemphasis" on Earth science work.

NASA plans to launch the CYGNSS mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida on Dec. 12. CYGNSS will be composed of a fleet of eight satellites designed to track hurricanes and tropical cyclones on Earth, providing more accurate weather forecasts of wind speeds and storm surges.

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