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Sun, Jul 23, 2006

Has NASA Given Up On Planet Earth?

Exploring "Home Planet" No Longer Part Of MS

This just in -- NASA is no longer in the business of protecting our planet. For the first time since 2002, NASA's mission statement makes no mention of the planet Earth.

The New York Times reports that for the past four years, NASA's mission statement read, "To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers... as only NASA can."

Since early February, however, NASA's mission statement -- placed on all its budget and planning documents -- now reads "to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research."

No mention is made of exploring... or protecting... terra firma.

NASA spokesman David E. Steitz told the Times the change was made to bring NASA's stated goals in line with President Bush's aim for manned spaceflight to the moon and Mars -- but that explanation isn't sitting well with many NASA scientists, who fear the omission means NASA is no longer concerned with projects dealing with such global issues as climate change, and greenhouse emissions.

“We refer to the mission statement in all our research proposals that go out for peer review, whenever we have strategy meetings,” said 25-year NASA veteran Philip B. Russell, an atmospheric chemist at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA. “As civil servants, we’re paid to carry out NASA’s mission. When there was that very easy-to-understand statement that our job is to protect the planet, that made it much easier to justify this kind of work.”

Furthermore, NASA researchers say the change was made without consulting the agency's 19,000 employees -- an issue Stietz attributed to NASA administrator Michael Griffin's "headquarters-down" style of management.

“I don’t think there was any mal-intent or idea of exclusion,” Steitz added.

That doesn't wash, however, with James E. Hansen -- the NASA climatologist who in February claimed political appointee George Deutsch threatened him for speaking out about the potential dangers from greenhouse gases.

“They’re making it clear that they have the authority to make this change, that the president sets the objectives for NASA, and that they prefer that NASA work on something that’s not causing them a problem,” said Hansen, who directs the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, on the new mission statement.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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