Bill Nye (of Science Guy fame) has some things to say to President Donald Trump.
Nye — who is the CEO of the Planetary Society — speaks on behalf of the advocacy organization in a new video that asks Trump to send humans to Mars, continue to fund NASA’s science missions and carefully select important priorities for the space agency in the years to come.
“Space brings out the best in us,” Nye says in the 6-minute video.
“There are two questions deep within each of us: Where did we come from, and are we alone in the universe? To answer these questions, we have to explore space.”
As Nye explains, the Planetary Society has five recommendations for the Trump administration as it lays out priorities for NASA.
According to a white paper accompanying the video, the priorities include:
1. Maintain the exploration of Mars as the organizing principle for NASA’s human spaceflight program.
2. Direct NASA to plan an executable, affordable path for sending humans to Mars orbit by 2033.
3. Expand NASA’s highly successful science portfolio.
4. Continue to grow and support the commercial space industry.
5. Initiate annual five percent increases to NASA’s budget for five years.
Some of those priorities might be an easier sell than others.
NASA has been slowly working toward sending people to Mars since the Obama administration set that priority for the agency, canceling the Bush-era Constellation program, which would have delivered astronauts back to the surface of the moon.
This Mars focus, however, could change under Trump.
Rumors that the new administration will direct NASA back to the moon before moving on to Mars have been flying for weeks, but Nye is asking that NASA keeps its eyes on the red planet.
The Planetary Society’s advocacy for more NASA funding could also be a hard sell with a new administration that is proposing to slash and burn the budgets of a number of agencies in order to fund other priorities like defense.
Convincing the administration to prioritize commercial space opportunities, however, probably won’t be too difficult.
Trump appears to be all-in with commercial spaceflight ventures like SpaceX and Blue Origin. He’s already met with SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Blue Origin’s founder Jeff Bezos. The Republican party is also interested in opportunities provided by public/private partnerships in space.
An absence of Earth science?
It’s telling that Nye barely mentions Earth science as a priority for NASA in the Trump era.
While he does include Earth research in the section of the video and the white paper advocating for NASA’s science work, it’s scarcely highlighted.
This could be strategic on the part of the Planetary Society, in that Trump is on record as saying he believes climate change is a hoax and much of what NASA looks into in their Earth science division is focused on climate research.
Republican members of Congress have also said that NASA needs to stop focusing on climate change research and instead concentrate all of its efforts on getting humans out into the solar system.
That, of course, would mark a decisive shift for NASA, which has been involved in Earth science research since the agency was founded. It would also be risky, considering that the agency’s launch facilities in Cape Canaveral, Florida and other centers around the country are located along coastlines, where they are vulnerable to climate change-induced sea level rise.