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NASA’s Funding Rooted in History and International Politics



Donald Trump wearing a formal suit while carrying a dark blue NASA shirt in the White House.
Source: White House | Flicker

It is not news that numerous politicians, including the newest resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, are reluctant to invest in scientific endeavors or create policy based on scientific evidence.

The motivations behind President Trump’s decision to sign a bill allocating $19.5 billion in funding for NASA–America’s beloved federal agency–are, therefore, put into question.

The agency’s budget has significantly dwindled since the 1960s, and this bill is its first authorization bill in seven years.

“It’s been a long time since a bill like this has been signed reaffirming our national commitment to the core mission of NASA: human space exploration, space science, and technology,” Trump said on March 21st from the Oval Office of the White House.

To any space exploration enthusiast, this bill appears to be a blessing in an administration that is overwhelmingly anti-science. NASA’s responsibilities, however, are not exclusively tethered to space exploration, for a mass amount of its funding is used to study one planet in particular–Earth.

With this bill, Trump aims to weaken this vital aspect of NASA’s mission; the agency should be focused on “deep space, not Earth.”

For example, in the administration’s blueprint budget, titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” Trump plans to cut funding for a NASA satellite program that monitors solar storms and the Earth’s climate.

Under this blueprint budget, a multitude of other scientific agencies and departments are also at risk for cuts, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), which are one of the nation’s largest employers of scientists and engineers.

The future of the National Science Foundation remains uncertain. Though this bill will give NASA an increased ability to reach Mars in the near future, governmental science and environmental, in general, are under threat of cuts.

This brings into question the history of the political motives tethered to NASA’s budget. Upon the agency’s creation in 1958, the United States was in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

In 1962, with President Kennedy in office, a discussion between the president and a NASA chief revealed that the president believed landing men on the moon should be the agency’s top priority, while NASA Administrator James Webb did not.

In the transcript, Kennedy urges Webb to alter NASA’s priorities, stating, “This is important for political reasons, international political reasons. This is, whether we like it or not, an intensive race.”

The political climate of the time, rather than the desire for scientific innovation, motivated the president to allocate enough funding to NASA to get America to the moon.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson argues, “NASA got founded on the fear factor of Sputnik.” The only reason the U.S. landed on the moon in the first place was because the nation was at war with the U.S.S.R.

When the U.S. landed on the moon before any other country, there was no doubt that America was a scientific superpower in midst of the space race. Thus, this history of political motivations to increase funding to NASA must be paralleled with Trump’s current goal to send astronauts to Mars.

If America reaches Mars before any other country, it will once again be seen as a political superpower. The political dominance America will receive from this achievement is a major motivation of the administration, while scientific research and innovations in general fall to the wayside.

By: Ella Koscher

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