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NASA Administrator Gives Ted Cruz A Lesson In How Science Works

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE

Sen. Ted Cruz thinks NASA should spend less time studying the planet and more time finding ways to go out into space.

Cruz (R-TX), who is chair of the Senate Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee, addressed his concerns at a hearing Thursday on the $18.5 billion budget request for NASA’s fiscal year 2016. There, he asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden what Bolden thought NASA’s “core mission” was.

“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,” Bolden said.

 Cruz wasn’t satisfied.

“Almost any American would agree that the core function of NASA is to explore space,” Cruz said. “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.”

But Bolden defended NASA’s work here on Earth. NASA compiles data on the planet’s air pollution via satellite, engages in research on new forms of energy, and is a key agency for climate change and ice melt data. Bolden alluded to the agency’s study of climate change in his response to Cruz, saying that the agency can’t do any of its work — on the ground or up in space — “if the Kennedy Space Center goes underwater and we don’t know it.” That’s not a hyperbolic worry — scientists have warned that sea level rise is putting the Kennedy Center, which is located in Florida, at risk.

“It is absolutely critical that we understand Earth’s environment because this is the only place that we have to live,” Bolden said. “Science helps exploration; exploration helps science.”

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