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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Cruz won’t bruise NASA

With a new year comes a new Congress, and with a new Congress comes new reports of the incoming destruction of everything great about this country. Though when it comes to NASA, the fears seem founded on fact.

Over the last few weeks, the Internet has been awash with articles about how Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is the new chair of the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness. The position involves oversight of NASA, and it seems everyone is afraid this is the end of NASA as we know it.

On paper, Cruz being in charge of NASA makes little sense, except to the Republicans who, like Cruz, deny the reality of science. The Huffington Post points out that Cruz believes there isn’t enough evidence to support climate change, something which most NASA scientists who study the subject will likely disagree with him on.

Cruz also tried cutting NASA’s budget in 2013 — and now he has more power to do so. NASA cuts could have far-reaching effects, including at the UA.

It seems reasonable to be scared — but only if you’re cherry-picking facts.

Cruz may not be a crusader for science, but that doesn’t mean he’s completely anti-NASA, either. In 2013, Cruz said he believes the U.S. must stay a leader in space exploration, something that cannot happen without NASA.

He was also trying to cut the agency’s budget at the time, but that’s not unprecedented. After all, former President George W. Bush announced a plan in 2004 to go back to the moon by 2020, only to then slash NASA’s budget over the next few years.

That doesn’t mean Cruz will follow the same path, though. For one, he can’t act unilaterally to make cuts. Congress could still pass a budget that cuts NASA funding, but that’s far from certain.

Cruz also is somewhat knowledgeable about NASA, unlike climate change. In a Jan. 14 interview with the Houston Chronicle, Cruz said he believes NASA should get back to exploring space and to manned space exploration, as well as find a way to get reach low-Earth orbit without Russian aid. These are not bad goals, and him cutting NASA’s budget won’t help reach them.

Cruz also isn’t the only one on the subcommittee, which itself is under the domain of another committee.

“Those appropriations committees … they’re packed with people — you know, they’re not mindless advocates of space or NASA, but … they’re technically competent,” said Chris Impey, the deputy head of the department of astronomy at the UA. 

“They understand what NASA’s trying to do, and they’re generally supportive.”

Cruz’s words seem to push him into that direction. Even his 2013 attempt to cut NASA’s budget wasn’t an attack on NASA specifically: Cruz was supporting across-the-board cuts to reduce government expenditure.

And then there’s Cruz’s own constituents to consider: NASA has large facilities in Texas and a growing private space industry.

“With NASA … there’s also a pork element,” Impey said. “Those people who are from California or New York or Florida or Texas where big NASA centers are, they’re not going … to oversee cuts to those big NASA activities.”

If Cruz defies his words and constituents and cuts NASA’s budgets, it would have widespread effects. NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, which would replace the retired space shuttles, could see cutbacks and delays. Potential exploration missions might be pushed far into the future. The two largest missions at the UA, OSIRIS-REx and the James Webb Space Telescope, are both already funded, Impey said, but the UA could see fewer NASA grants and less money from some science departments.

A funding cut is no joke, and Cruz is, hopefully, smarter than that. Fears of him cutting NASA’s budget are an overreaction. He might not have been the best person for the job, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a bad one.

“Every one of us had looked up at the night sky and wondered what lies out there,” Cruz told the Houston Chronicle. “America has always led the way in space exploration, and we need to reclaim that leadership.”

Who knows? Maybe Cruz will be the one leading us there, but he most likely won’t be the one stopping us.

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Ashwin Mehra in a physiology major. Follow him on Twitter.

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