Enriched baby food, infrared ear thermometers, freeze-dried food, cordless vacuums, solar cells, water and air purification, accurate weather prediction…These are just a few technologies, inventions, or innovations that NASA has been a part of, improved, or produced directly. And it’s the agency that first put human feet on alien soil.
Despite everything that NASA has done, everything it represents, it’s strapped. Ask the American public what share of the federal budget goes to the agency and they might say nearly one-fourth. That’s how far NASA’s efforts stretch. In reality, NASA receives around 0.5% of the federal budget. Passionate proponents like Neil deGrasse Tyson and public efforts like Penny4NASA have pleaded with us to contribute more.
Now, the US Congress just gave oversight of NASA’s budget to a man who not only doesn’t understand science, he actively seeks to slow its progress.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, was just appointed as chair of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, and should be confirmed later this month. This subcommittee effectively oversees NASA operations, and is therefore in control of the funding NASA receives. It wouldn’t be a problem if Cruz fully understood and valued the impact of the agency. To his credit, Cruz was quoted as saying in 2013 that it is “critical” for the US to remain ahead in extraterrestrial matters.
However, Ted Cruz is the last person we need overseeing NASA.
The first reason is obvious: The senator has already tried to diminish the 0.5% of our budget going to the agency. Cruz tried (and failed) to cut NASA funding as recently as 2013. The second reason is more pernicious: The senator actively denies science.
In regards to climate change, Cruz has gone on record stating that, “The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that – that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened.”
Taken separately, Cruz’s opposition to NASA and to climate change is troublesome but not catastrophic. But considering how critical NASA is to monitoring the effects we are having on our climate, his appointment to a committee that has a huge impact on both just might be catastrophic. Time will tell, but I’m afraid what it will tell us. Science denial isn’t a pick-and-choose game. It’s a suite of beliefs, a full house hand of ignorance.
This is more than just appointing someone unqualified to judge the value of an agency; it’s giving someone who enthusiastically misunderstands the underpinnings of an agency the keys to it – like appointing an astrologer to determine the utility of the Hubble Telescope.
As Neil deGrasse Tyson feared, with Cruz overseeing NASA it may get easier and easier to stop dreaming.
Kyle Hill is the Science Editor at Nerdist Industries. Follow on Twitter @Sci_Phile.