Science Denier Ted Cruz Doesn’t Understand NASA’s Core Mission at All

Putting science-denier Senator Ted Cruz in charge of NASA’s funding oversight was never going to go well, and last week the Republican lawmaker really began flexing his muscles, claiming that NASA should focus only on space exploration and stop looking at more Earthly matters.

Until now, Cruz has surprised both his critics and his Tea Party faithful by being relatively quiet in his role as chair of the Senate Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee. However, during a budget meeting on Thursday, Cruz did seem to tip his hand when he suggested that NASA’s current reportage on Earth science is dull and that it was time to turn our attention back to the stars–and, presumably, away from what all those non-renewable sources of energy we keep burning are actually doing to our planet.

Taking aim at NASA’s requested $18.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2016, and attempting to rattle NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in the process, Cruz asked what NASA’s “core mission” has always been. For an agency that has all of the Earth and space as its domain, this wasn’t an easy thing for Bolden to pin down, but he gave it a reasonable go: “Our core mission from the very beginning has been to investigate, explore space and the Earth environment, and to help us make this place a better place.”

Cruz waved this away, saying: “Almost any American would agree that the core function of NASA is to explore space. That’s what inspires little boys and little girls across this country … and you know that I am concerned that NASA in the current environment has lost its full focus on that core mission.”

Apparently, learning about future megadroughts and current ground water loss–issues that could affect children in the future–aren’t the stuff dreams are made of and so presumably not worth funding.

Cruz went on to object to the fact that, according to his many, many charts, since President Obama was elected, NASA’s space exploration budget has decreased while its exploration of Earth has increased. This, Cruz argued, isn’t what the public expects of NASA.

Democratic lawmakers on the panel pointed out that while there may have been a reduction in space exploration spending across the board, that ignores the fact that the Obama administration has increased funds, for instance, for developing new technologies that will eventually aid space exploration and ignores Cruz’s own attempts to defund NASA in previous years.

Cruz disregarded this however and continued his attack. When Bolden began talking about NASA’s monitoring of water distribution in the Earth’s soil as a necessary look into not just water distribution but how our planet might be changing, Cruz offered what the media has taken to be the soundbite of the day: “I love our Texas soil,” said Cruz, “but that ain’t what makes NASA special.”

If Cruz thought his latest performance was a convincing one, however, scratch the thin veneer of badgering a NASA representative and what we really have is Cruz and his fellow Republicans trying to passive-aggressively bully NASA away from climate science. And that’s no wonder. Take Cruz’s previous comments on climate change and his apparent disdain for science: “You always have to be worried about something that is considered a so-called scientific theory that fits every scenario. Climate change, as they have defined it, can never be disproved, because whether it gets hotter or whether it gets colder, whatever happens, they’ll say, well, it’s changing, so it proves our theory.”

Cruz has previously joked that Al Gore must have got the global warming thing all wrong because of, well, snow and cold weather. He’s also flat out denied that the climate has changed. “The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming,” he’s quoted as saying, despite the recorded warming NASA and other agencies have logged. “Contrary to all the theories that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened.

It has. And it is still happening.

Cruz’s defenders have rushed to say that he never actually mentioned climate change during Thursday’s hearing–but that’s precisely the issue, isn’t it? Cruz denies climate change exists, and therefore is blind to all of NASA’s good work documenting its effects and projecting future problems.

What’s also fairly obvious though is that Cruz clearly doesn’t know how important understanding our own planet is to our space exploration goals. NASA’s looking at our climate, Earth’s rock composition, ozone layer depletion and more all helps us to understand what we are seeing when we look out into space. I quite agree that Congress should want a robust space mission, but defunding our attempts to understand our own planet out of science denial and partisan point scoring isn’t the way to do it. Instead, reducing military spending and putting that money toward scientific exploration is what is needed here.