Cardin: NASA Earth Science Just as Important as Exploration

Cardin: NASA Earth Science Just as Important as Exploration

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) stressed again and again today that while he supports the Artemis program and human space exploration, NASA’s science programs are just as important.  He singled out Earth science, but his overall point is that NASA must have a balanced program. Cardin added that the Senate Appropriations Committee will begin work on the FY2021 funding bills next week.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland)

Cardin was the junior Senator from Maryland until Sen. Barbara Mikulski retired in 2016. Mikulski was one of NASA’s strongest supporters, particularly of programs managed by Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, and a powerful member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  Many wondered if NASA’s fortunes in the Senate would fade with her departure, but Cardin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, elected to fill Mikulski’s seat, continue their unwavering advocacy for NASA.

Cardin said he speaks with Mikulski all the time and she always asks what he’s doing for space, NASA and Goddard.  “I have to report to her regularly,” he laughed.

His two key messages today in a virtual speech to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable are the need for predictable, timely budgets and a balanced NASA program that includes both human exploration and science.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will begin work on FY2021 appropriations next week with the goal of getting all the bills passed by September 30, when FY2020 ends, he said.

“I, on behalf of the Maryland delegation, have put in our requests that those programs be funded at the level to carry out their missions on time,” giving shout outs to Europa Clipper, WFIRST (now the Roman Space Telescope), James Webb Space Telescope, PACE, and OSAM — the On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing Mission (formerly known as RESTORE-L).

He lambasted the use of Continuing Resolutions (CRs) as stop-gap measures because agencies like NASA need predictable funding.  That is a common refrain from members of the House and Senate even though Congress almost always passes CRs because they are unable to complete appropriations on time. The country is in unprecedented times so history may not be a useful guide, but with the abbreviated congressional schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic and upcoming elections, it would be remarkable if a CR can be avoided this year. Not to mention the difficulty appropriators face in reaching agreement on discretionary spending considering the trillions being allocated to COVID-19 relief and the resulting deficit explosion.

Under the circumstances, effectively communicating that NASA does more “than just shooting off a rocket” is critical, he urged.  “I’m not sure a lot of people know” about how important NASA’s Earth science program is for protecting the Chesapeake Bay, for example.  “We need to perhaps brag about that a little bit more.”

He was excited to watch the Demo-2 launch and “I’m very supportive” of the Artemis program, but “I want to emphasize again, I want to make sure we have balance.  So, as we deal with space exploration, which I strongly support, I want to make sure we do it, recognizing that we must have adequate resources for the other critical missions at NASA, including the earth sciences.”

On an unrelated matter, he was asked his view on the FCC’s controversial decision to approve Ligado’s application to use spectrum adjacent to that used by GPS for a 5G terrestrial broadband system. DOD and others are livid because they fear it will create harmful interference with GPS.  The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) agrees with DOD and included a provision in the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act prohibiting DOD from spending money to comply with the FCC’s decision.

Cardin agrees. “I am against the way they are proceeding.” Common ground must be found between those who want to advance 5G and those already using the spectrum to make sure there is no interference.


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