Changing the mission: NASA Climate Change Science Program budget has been cut by 22% since 2004


Removing “understand and protect our home planet” from the NASA mission statement this year was not just a matter of semantics.  The administration has been slashing its support for the agency’s Earth Science activities, including observations and research on climate and global environmental change. The President’s 2007 budget request for NASA’s Climate Change Science Program activities is 22% below the Fiscal Year 2004 spending level—more like 30% adjusting for inflation—a staggering cutback.

We have always believed that satellite-based observing systems and related scientific research—what NASA used to call the “Mission to Planet Earth”—was by far the most important part of the agency’s budget.  Earth science has made up a tenth or less of the total NASA budget—far less than what is spent on activities related to human space flight.  But it makes an essential contribution to the overall national and international scientific research effort on climate and global environmental change. 

We also support a strong space science research program, including the Hubble Space Telescope and other instrumented missions.  But under no circumstances would we allow the cost of the space shuttle and the international space station to undercut the priority of understanding and protecting our home planet.  Making dramatic cutbacks in support for Earth Science in order to divert NASA resources to supporting human space exploration and especially the President’s Moon-Mars “vision” is madness.

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program budget by participating agency for 2004-2006 (see fact sheet) shows that NASA’s share of the total CCSP interagency budget (including both space-based observing systems and scientific research) was $1.32 billion in FY2004.  The FY2006 budget request was $1.16 billion.  There was a 12% reduction from ‘04 to the ‘06 request.

Then, looking at the President’s FY2007 budget request for the CCSP (CCSPbudgetFY2005-2007.pdf), we see an “estimated” FY2006 budget of $1.04 billion and a FY2007 request for $1.02 billion.  Note:

While the FY2007 request is about 2% below the “estimated” FY2006 spending, making the budget look relatively flat from one year to the next, our understanding is that NASA made a major reduction in its FY2006 Earth science budget internally from the originally budgeted amount.  The cutback from the original FY2006 budget to the FY2007 request was actually quite substantial, and indicative of an accelerating change in NASA priorities.

Bottom line: a 2004 NASA Climate Change Science Program budget of $1.32 billion has been cut to $1.02 billion in the 2007 request—a reduction of almost $300 million, about 22% not including inflation.

Without going into specifics here (we’ll save that for later), it appears that NASA’s climate science research and observations work is being put in the position of maintaining existing infrastructure and personnel but having to impose lengthy delays in new satellite missions (if not cancelling them outright) and cutting support for external scientists.  And all this at a time when climate science has been making significant advances, with NASA-supported work as a major contributor. 

One might be tempted to suspect that, from the perspective of a White House that has chosen evasiveness over forthrightness on these issues, it might be more convenient, rather than having to try to censor the communication of science findings, to just have less research done and fewer global observations made in the first place.     

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