Viewpoint – NASA budget cuts harm Earth exploration

Jamil Oakford/managing editor

Between capturing the first pictures of Pluto and the discovery of an Earth-like planet not too far away, NASA has caught public attention and interest.

And just in time. After all, the U.S. aeronautics and space division has experienced deep cuts in funding from the government.

While the argument could be made that the density of Jupiter or the correct classification for Pluto holds little to no importance in daily life, the programs that are targeted the hardest aren’t NASA’s stellar and planetary exploration like many would think. Instead, its earth science program is facing major budget cuts.

The earth science program is probably the lesser-known program, yet it’s one of the most important and relevant to people. Not only does NASA study weather patterns, natural hazards, water availability and air quality, NASA also keeps a close eye on the ever-changing climate.

Presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a Senate hearing back in May that NASA went astray in its focus. Planetary exploration, he said, was far more important than the work being done in earth science.

Others who support cutting earth science funding in favor of planetary exploration programs, like Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), believe that President Obama’s administration has done a disservice by cutting exploration funding and increasing earth sciences.

That is a hard claim to swallow, especially when NASA prints a report that reveals 2014 was the hottest year on record and more than 100 wildfires are spreading through the West.

It seems unreasonable to cut funding to one of the programs NASA uses to assist with people’s everyday lives. Planetary exploration can wait until people can understand how finite and fragile Earth is.

There are still mysteries and complex systems that NASA is trying to uncover about our own planet. What good does knowing the inner workings of Venus do when water availability is threatened?