Earth is a Modern Moonshot

NASA was not created to do something again. It was created to push the limits of human understanding — to help the nation solve big, impossible problems that require advances in science and technology. Fifty years ago, the impossible problem was putting a human on the moon to win the space race, and all of humanity has benefited from the accomplishment.

The impossible problem today is not the moon. And it’s not Mars. It’s our home planet, and NASA can once again be of service for the betterment of all.

Let’s remember our history. We went to the moon 50 years ago in response to the Soviet Union’s perceived domination of spaceflight. The 12 Americans who walked on the moon brought back 842 pounds of lunar material (rocks and dust), learned about our closest planetary body’s geology and gave us a view of the Earth that changed our perspective. But that’s not what drove NASA spending to 4 percent of the federal budget in 1965. We were willing to stake so much on the moon landing — only because there was so much at stake.

After accomplishing this amazing feat, the aerospace community has again and again sought presidential proclamations to go further. President Trump is the fifth president to proclaim we will send humans to the moon and/or Mars within a specific time frame, a decree without a value proposition that has never inspired broad public support nor come close to coming true.

NASA remains one the most revered and valuable brands in the world, and the agency is at its best when given a purpose. But the public doesn’t understand the purpose of spending massive amounts of money to send a few astronauts to the moon or Mars. Are we in another race, and if so, is this the most valuable display of our scientific and technological leadership? If science is the rationale, we can send robots for pennies on the dollar. In a July Pew Research Center study, 63 percent of respondents said monitoring key parts of Earth’s climate system should be the highest priority for the United States’ space agency — sending astronauts to the moon was their lowest priority, at 13 percent ; 18 percent favor Mars.

The public is right about this. Climate change — not Russia, much less China — is today’s existential threat. Data from NASA satellites show that future generations here on Earth will suffer from food and water shortages, increased disease and conflict over diminished resources. In 2018, the National Academy of Sciences released its decadal survey for Earth science and declared that NASA should prioritize the study of the global hydrological cycle; distribution and movement of mass between oceans, ice sheets, ground water and atmosphere; and changes in surface biology and geology. Immediately developing these sensors and satellites while extending existing missions would increase the cadence of new, more precise measurements and contribute to critical, higher-fidelity climate models.

The public is right about this. Climate change — not Russia, much less China — is today’s existential threat. Data from NASA satellites show that future generations here on Earth will suffer from food and water shortages, increased disease and conflict over diminished resources. In 2018, the National Academy of Sciences released its decadal survey for Earth science and declared that NASA should prioritize the study of the global hydrological cycle; distribution and movement of mass between oceans, ice sheets, ground water and atmosphere; and changes in surface biology and geology. Immediately developing these sensors and satellites while extending existing missions would increase the cadence of new, more precise measurements and contribute to critical, higher-fidelity climate models.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/forget-new-manned-missions-in-space-nasa-should-focus-on-saving-earth/2019/07/18/79e55eb8-a995-11e9-9214-246e594de5d5_story.html#click=https://t.co/4zxOwaZFHM

allie Braun