Trump's NASA Transition Team: "Goal is Human Exploration of Our Entire Solar System"
Donald Trump’s space advisers want his space program to focus more on human deep space exploration and less on researching the Earth and climate science. And the emerging commercial spaceflight industry will play a significant role in space policy moving forward.
In a recent op-ed in Space News, written by Robert S. Walker, former chairman of the House Science Committee and Peter Navarro, an economist and public policy expert suggested that "NASA should be focused primarily on deep space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies. Human exploration of our entire Solar System by the end of this century should be NASA’s focus and goal."
"We laid out our vision to have human exploration of the entire Solar System by the end of the century," Walker told The Verge. "That certainly includes the Moon and Mars and well beyond most of those."
Walker, who wrote Trump’s proposed space policy, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association should take over all of NASA’s satellite missions that are used to research Earth and its climate.
"The science that is being doing is essentially Earth-based science," Walker told The Verge. "It relates to weather; it relates to Earth-based needs. And so NOAA is probably a more appropriate place for that to be done."
This policy move could restructure NASA’s Earth Science division, which has seen a relatively steady increase in funding under the Obama administration.
NASA received $1.921 billion for its Earth Science division for fiscal year 2016, up from $1.5 billion in 2009. However, there are no known plans to increase funding to NOAA for this transition.
During the Obama administration, NASA has launched a series of key Earth-observing satellites, such as the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCVR) and the Jason satellites, which have gathered valuable data about Earth’s climate, space weather, sea level changes, and more.
"They’re not going to be able to cut Earth Science by a billion and use that for exploration," Jim Muncy, founder of PoliSpace, a space policy consulting agency, told The Verge. "But with the Republicans in the Senate and the House, we haven’t had undivided government like this since the beginning of Obama."
Walker and Navarro made it clear that strong public-private partnerships like that with SpaceX, tasked with ferrying people and cargo to and from the International Space Station, will continue, and that they will seek to turn the International Space Station into a "quasi-public facility" — something NASA has expressed interest in doing for some time.
When Obama came into office, his transition team, led by Lori Garver, eventually canceled Constellation and put NASA on a path to Mars instead, completely redirecting the space agency’s focus.
Garver suggests the Trump transition team, led by George H. W. Bush’s former space policy advisor Mark Albrecht, could make drastic changes as well. "Headed by Clinton, they really just weren’t planning to have nearly the amount of investigative hard look at things as they likely will now," Garver told The Verge. "So in many ways if it was Hillary it was going to be a very different transition than mine. And now I think it’ll be more similar."
"NASA is a very resilient partisan agency and a fresh look is a positive thing. There are plenty of extremely good Republicans who have been advising Trump. I think NASA will be okay."