By ADAM FRANK
December 2, 2016
Rochester — On April 1, 1960, the newly established National Aeronautics and Space Administration heaved a 270-pound box of electronics into Earth orbit. In those days, getting anything into space was a major achievement. But the real significance of that early satellite, Tiros-1, was not its survival, but its mission: Its sensors were not pointed outward toward deep space, but downward, at the Earth.
Tiros-1 was the first world’s first weather satellite. After its launch, Americans would never again be caught without warning as storms approached.
This small piece of history says a lot about the call by Bob Walker, an adviser to President-elect Donald J. Trump who worked with his campaign on space policy, to defund NASA’s earth science efforts, moving those functions to other agencies and letting it focus on deep-space research. “Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission,” he told The Guardian.
NASA critics have long wanted to shut the agency out of research related to climate change. The problem is, not only is earth science a long-running part of NASA’s “prime mission,” but it is uniquely positioned to do it. Without NASA, climate research worldwide would be hobbled.