Environment

Trump's Destruction of NASA Earth Science Imperils Us All

Donald Trump’s assault on climate science and critical Earth monitoring is under way and the results will be disastrous for all life on Earth.

Earth from space and satellite

Monitoring Earth's vital signs is essential to making intelligent decisions.

The fate of billions of people and countless species of wildlife will be determined by the decisions made in response to runaway climate change and over-population in coming decades.

Making intelligent policy decisions requires accurate and up to date information, and for decades, the only source for much of this information has been America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). That critical information will soon cease to be available and there is no ready replacement.

On December 11, Trump signed what he called “Space Policy Directive 1,” directing NASA to send Americans back to the moon and on a mission to Mars. This may initially seem exciting but at a time when all life on Earth is in peril, and the U.S. already has a highly advanced space program through the Air Force, it is idiotic. It is especially idiotic when one considers what Trump plans to cut from NASA's budget to pay for his bogus moon and Mars project.

With NASA reporting directly to Trump and not through any other body, Trump has a unique opportunity to destroy much of what NASA has spent decades evolving as its critical role in monitoring Earth’s health and exploring many frontiers of science.

Among the many critical projects NASA is involved with right now is the use of the existing joint NASA/NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) satellites to look down on Earth and help us understand how our planet is changing. Those satellites include sensors such as the following:

SeaWiFS, a sensor used to collect global biological ocean data. Its primary and original mission was to measure the amount of chlorophyll produced by marine phytoplankton, which is a key measure of the health of the oceans and their ability to sustain life.

The NASA/NOAA Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). It is used to measure cloud and aerosol properties, ocean color, sea and land surface temperatures, ice motion and temperature and Earth’s albedo. (Albedo is the fraction of solar energy reflected from Earth back into space. Most important for this measurement is actually its opposite: how much energy is absorbed by the planet and converted into heat.) With this device, ocean pigment concentrations and sea surface temperatures (SST) can be measured accurately globally every two days. Its data is the information often displayed as an oblate spheroid map of temperatures throughout the entire world, as calculated and calibrated against blackbody references in the device by organizations such as the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

With these and other sensors on board the satellites, as well as those recently added on the International Space Station, the satellites can monitor the following:

  • Rapid changes in phytoplankton growth. This is not just an issue for global warming, which is certainly significant, but the rapid changes in phytoplankton growth are almost always tied to a rapid change in the entire seaborne food chain, something that affects fishing and the food supply for nations throughout the world. Phytoplankton populations have already been collapsing in numerous areas.
  • Fires, deforestation and the rapid impact of methane release as frozen peat and other areas are uncovered.
  • Land and sea temperatures, and even soil moisture, to help predict crop yields and advise farmers when to irrigate and about the impact of new climate-adaptation strategies around the globe. (Similar satellites are used by India and the Chinese to help monitor the impact of monsoons and flooding periods.) The current satellites monitor as much as 80% of the fields around the world.
  • Sea levels as climate change marches on around the globe.
  • Extreme weather patterns to analyze and predict hurricanes, typhoons and even tsunamis when appropriate. NASA was studying the almost daily bizarre and vicious storms that have been plaguing the Great Plains states and Colorado during summer.
  • Ground and tectonic plate shifts that relate to potential far-reaching effects such as earthquakes around the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Together, these satellites, along with the scientists who use them, have proven invaluable and highly accurate in predicting precisely what is happening from the impacts of global warming and climate change, especially in the past two decades.

While these satellites and their Earth-based analytical tools already help us to understand what is happening to our planet, much more is needed that are being set aside as NASA’s primary purposes are being remapped for the “age of Trump.” These include the following:

PACE

The PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) mission, as planned by NASA going back to 2010, was to be a “strategic climate continuity mission” in support of NASA’s Plan for a Climate-Centric Architecture for Earth Observations and Applications from Space. Its instruments were designed to provide an upgraded means of monitoring aerosol particles, clouds and a variety of factors – including ocean color – related to marine ecosystems not limited to phytoplankton.

The mission was informed to a major extent by the results of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which reported on its work in 2007 under the leadership of then President George W. Bush. It was to provide extended data tracking on clouds and aerosol particles and their impact on ocean biology and chemistry and all living things within it.

CLARREO

The CLARREO (Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory) program came out of the same 2007 planning efforts as PACE. It was what was identified as a “Tier 1 mission” and was to be planned in phases, with the initial deployment of a reflected solar (RS) spectrometer, a scientific tool to be hosted on the International Space Station.

CLARREO works through continuous monitoring of very high accuracy spectral reflectance and radiance measurements over a much wider wavelength monitoring range (compared to previous instrumentation available in space) of 350 to 2300 nm. It was designed with multiple calibration tools to provide much higher positional and temporal accuracy for its measurements. It was also designed to provide a much higher detail of metrics so that it would take an entire month to fully sample the entire globe from 52oN to 52oS latitude.

DSCOVR

Unlike the CLARREO and PACE projects, which have not yet made their way into orbit and begun communicating data to Earth, the DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) satellite is already deployed and sending data. The catch is that Trump wants to shut off all the “Earth-viewing” instruments on it.

DSCOVR was originally invented by Vice-President Al Gore in the late 1990s and was funded and finally launched into space in 2015 atop one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets. Its purpose was to monitor Earth and to track solar wind, the particles from the sun that create geomagnetic storms above Earth.

Its instruments include EPIC, which captures high-resolution images of the sunlit side of Earth, and NISTAR, a device that tracks irradiance across Earth for a variety of what were identified as “climate science applications.”DSCOVR is operated by NOAA and NASA together. Its operation is not in question, as NOAA has no orders to halt maintenance of the satellite’s capabilities. What is being directed, however, is for NASA to stop processing the Earth sensor data gathered from the instruments within the satellite. The reason seems clear – to keep yet another scientific project related to climate change analysis going forward within the government – but it is definitely not for budget reasons, which is what the public will likely be told. That is quite clear because the entire NASA analytical budget tied to DSCOVR in Fiscal 2018 was only $1.2 million.

NASA’s Education Program

Something else Trump’s proposed budgets would slash is the educational outreach program, which received $115 million for the 2016 fiscal year. Under the 2018 proposed NASA budget, the program funds would drop to zero.

The NASA education program has been around for years as a primary means of reaching out to professors, teachers and students as part of a long-term intent to get children interested in science and engineering. With a central place to carry out this outreach, all of NASA’s programs had the ability to touch the youth of America in a unique way.

This program also included an ongoing series of investments to support schools in order to help kids get excited about the potential of future careers in extremely important fields such as aerospace (which even supports the military, making it an odd thing for the Trump administration to want to quash). Funds here are managed via the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program as well as NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP).

The program also paid for astronauts to visit classrooms, for other public appearances of NASA scientists and spokespeople on multiple fronts and even for the famous Space Camps, which used to draw such crowds as children for their first real contact with space-related science and “fun.”The current presidential budget has NASA’s Science Mission Directorate given the responsibility for keeping its outreach programs active. But with $0 in the budget for the program, it is not hard to imagine what will happen to it. Worse still, if Trump continues to “zero out” these outreach activities and somehow is installed to a second term of office, there could be an eight-year gap in the contact that America’s children would have with these kinds of opportunities.

What’s Left

The new space policy for the Trump administration, which dumps all of the above items, was crafted by principal author Robert S. Walker, former House Science Committee Chairman, with help from economist and public policy expert Peter Navarro. As the two wrote in their summaries on the subject about a year ago, after Trump was elected but prior to his taking office, the new “NASA should be focused primarily on deep space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies.” It further suggested that NASA’s work of this kind mostly “relates to weather,” according to another policy document written by Walker at around the same time a year ago. He said: “It relates to Earth-based needs. And so NOAA is probably a more appropriate place for that to be done.” He neglected to mention that in doing that shuffling, all the budgets for “Earth-based needs” work would be completely gutted within NASA and not added back into NOAA.

If all that is gone, what would replace that critical work of monitoring climate change and saving the planet and all its species from extinction? Walker said that “human exploration of our entire solar system by the end of this century should be NASA’s focus and goal.”These are the policy statements that are guiding why, on December 11, Trump directed NASA to send scientists back to the moon and, soon after, to Mars. After that, if Trump’s policies are continued, manned space probes will be flying throughout the rest of the universe.

There are a number of problems with the logic in this.

1. It is massively stupid to spend money on needless space missions when our own planet and all life on Earth is in serious peril. Instead of spending hundreds of billions that the country doesn’t have on traveling into space, we must fix our own planet.

2. America is bankrupt, and it simply cannot afford to spend any more on space travel.

3. NOAA has not been given the budget, personnel and facilities necessary to replicate NASA's expertise. Therefore it can't and won't take on the duties previously handled by NASA.

4. The United States already has a highly advanced secret space program run by Air Force Space Command. There is no need to for NASA to duplicate what is already being done.

America’s secret space program was first publicly exposed in 2001, when Gary McKinnon hacked into U.S. Space Command computers and learned of the existence of “non-terrestrial officers,” “fleet-to-fleet transfers” and a secret program called “Solar Warden.” In 2002, he was charged by the Bush administration for having committed “the biggest military computer hack of all time” and stood to face prison time of up to 70 years. In 2016, the United Kingdom quietly decided to not extradite him. The United States could not risk an open trial and have more of its secrets exposed.

McKinnon claimed, “They are some very credible, relied-upon people, all saying ‘Yes, there is UFO technology, there’s anti-gravity, there’s free energy, and it’s extraterrestrial in origin and [they’ve] captured spacecraft and reverse engineered it.’”

If one digs through enough declassified documents and interviews credible people with first-hand knowledge of America’s secret space program, it becomes clear that the United States does already have highly advanced technology that would enable it to establish bases on the moon and Mars and that those bases have likely existed for some time.

Even Germany had plans to send men to the moon in the late 1930s, using technology channeled from entities on Aldebaran. According to German scientist Dr. Armin J. Bickel, in a statement he made after retiring from America’s secret space program at Vandenberg Air Force Base, he and the other engineers on Hitler’s moon project were transferred to the V2 rocket program in the early 1940s. The Nazi moon project was shelved until the United States took it over at the end of the war. In 1944, the V2 was the first man-made object to be launched into space. Bickel’s statement can be found in the October 4, 1974, edition of the Lompoc Record and were repeated when interviewed by this author in 1987.

Other retired deep-black military scientists privately claim to have gone to the moon in the 1950s and that the NASA moon landing in 1969 was done for PR purposes and to conceal America’s more advanced secret space program.

An intelligent President who does not want to destroy the United States and the planet’s future would increase NASA’s Earth science budget, not reduce or eliminate it.

With the United States withdrawn from the community of sane and rational nations, it will be up to the European Space Agency, Russia and China to step up and fill the Earth science void but they are starting with too little too late. Perhaps it would be better if humanity simply removed Trump from power and restored NASA's Earth Science programs.