This morning, a bunch of science-focused entertainers, whose greatest contribution to actual science involved starring in science fiction shows and occasionally chatting about their experiences on podcasts and Twitter, were losing their minds over Ted Cruz’s appointment as chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee which will give him, among other responsibilities, oversight of NASA. According to said entertainers, unschooled in the basics of conservative and libertarian ideology, Ted Cruz will most certainly use his new power to gut the space program and retask all Federally-employed scientists with figuring out how dinosaurs could peacefully coexist with humans in the Garden of Eden just short of 10,000 years ago.
Now, while concern about Ted’s plan for NASA may not be unfounded – after all, he could now very well use NASA’s resources to track down the rest of his species on a faraway planet – the only evidence that even the Huffington Post could find of Ted’s disrespect for NASA’s mission is a speculative connection to Cruz’s efforts to shut down the government in 2012, which gave most of NASA’s employees an unexpected vacation. While it’s fair to say that a brief disruption in funding might have lasting effects, it’s also fair to say that NASA itself wasn’t among Cruz’s priority targets. In fact, if anyone has had a negative impact on NASA’s long term viability, it’s the Obama Administration, which has repeatedly gutted NASA programs in it’s annual budget.
In 2012, for example, the same year Ted Cruz shut down the Federal government over budget issues, the Obama Administration’s dropped NASA’s planetary science funding by $300 million, which nearly killed NASA’s Mars exploration program, despite 2012 successes. It is only because of Republican efforts in the House, specifically Houston-area Representatives who couldn’t bear to see NASA’s 2016 Mars mission jeopardized, that those budget suggestions were ignored. In fact, the cuts to Planetary Science have become so troubling that Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” who has been a vocal opponent of anti-science rhetoric from “right-wing nutjobs” in the past, recorded a video open letter to Obama directly, chastizing the President and his administration for their utter callousness towards the importance of NASA’s solar system-focused endeavors. The President didn’t listen. His 2014 draft budget again eviscerated NASA’s most promising programs.
When Ted Cruz receives the White House’s NASA’s budget suggestions for 2015, he’ll find that they’ve recommended massive cuts once again: while Space Technology will get a boost (largely because of competition from commercial spaceflight), Earth Science funding will be cut by $56 million (and not even by “Climate Science deniers” in Congress!), Astrophysics will be cut by $61 million and Planetary Science will once again face a cut of up to $65 million (which even Slate considers a minor victory, considering that the White House continually wants to slash that budget even further). With NASA planning major leaps forward in planetary exploration for 2016, the balancing act will be very tricky.
So perhaps the concern for NASA’s future is a bit unfounded, at least as far as Ted Cruz’s potential machinations are concerned, especially given that Ted Cruz represents a state that has a proud heritage of spacefaring industry. Perhaps they should all be more worried about the President. If they can spare some criticism for him, of course.