Will Houston have a problem with new NASA boss?

John Hopton for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Republican Senator and Tea Party poster boy Ted Cruz has been named chair of the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness. Along with other science programs, he will be responsible for overseeing NASA, an agency he has not given a lot of love to in the past.

Cruz was highly influential in causing the 16-day government shutdown in 2013, during which time 97 percent of NASA employees were unable to go to work, and interns living in dorms were temporarily evicted from their accommodation. A skeleton staff was kindly enabled to stay on during the shutdown so that astronauts on the International Space Station were not left floating helplessly in space.

Tom Jones, a retired NASA astronaut, told Space.com at the time that that the delay of even a couple of weeks was disastrous to NASA.

“We have all of these vehicles in development like Orion and the Space Launch System [rocket], so that’s going to cost taxpayers big bucks to lose the momentum [and] to pick up the pieces from a stalled program where decisions should be being made every day,” Jones explained.

Space exploration was certainly not the only scientific work affect severely affected by the shutdown. Clinical trials had to be put on hold, and 90 percent of Environmental Protection Agency employees were on furlough.

Also in 2013, Cruz clashed with the Democrats over NASA funding, arguing that while there is a need to “protect the priority that space exploration and manned exploration should have,” that priority should be protected using a much lower budget. At least the Texas senator cannot be accused of favoring NASA because of its importance in his home state.

Perhaps preparing a scapegoat for the stalled progress that he knows is coming, Cruz criticized President Obama for NASA’s setbacks:

“One of the problems with the Obama administration is that it has degraded NASA,” the senator said in a statement, quoted by the Huffington Post. “It has degraded for space exploration, degraded manned exploration because the Obama administration has undervalued that and shifted to funding other priorities. It shifted the funding to global warming pursuits rather than carry out NASA’s core mission.”

Cruz’s phrasing makes it sound as if he thinks Obama has been designating funds to making the world hotter, but presumably his meaning is that the Obama administration has been focussing too much on that unnecessary distraction of climate change, which he told CNN in February is not supported by data and may not even exist.

“Contrary to all the theories that that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened,” Cruz said.

A deficit of concern for NASA and climate change would both be troubling in their own right, but they are not unrelated. Research on climate change is part of NASA’s job, and it recently began five projects to study how the earth’s atmosphere affects global warming.

NASA received a $530 million boost to its 2015 budget in December from Congress, in order to support its Space Launch System rocket and its planetary science program. Cruz has said some of the right words about NASA and science programs in the past, but taken some of the wrong actions. We can now rest easy knowing that climate change was probably not even a thing after all, but it remains to be seen what changes Cruz and the Republican-led Congress have in store for NASA.

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