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United States Politics and Space Exploration

Despite denialists and skeptics, climate change is real — and it’s happening fast. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) aims to combat this issue through the 2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a collection of 17 goals which are supposed to be completed by 2030. An important component of the SDGs is combating climate change by improving resilience against natural disasters and other climate-change hazards. Additionally, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) created the Paris Agreement in 2015, an agreement encouraging countries to set goals to combat climate change and invest in a low carbon future. Following the results of the 2016 U.S. election, the Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from the Paris agreement, becoming the only country in the world to do so. This unprecedented course of action could have catastrophic political and environmental consequences, which is why scientists are now turning to a possible alternative solution — space exploration. 

Space exploration began with the Space Race during the Cold War era. Obvious political tensions and ideological differences between the democratic U.S. and communist Russia prompted a competition to put the first human into space. The Soviets dominated early on by launching the first satellite and the first flight to put a human into space. The U.S. retaliated by infamously sending the first men to the moon. The Soviets created the first space station and shortly after, the U.S. created the first space shuttle. The Space Race came to an end in 1972, just after the Soviets landed a probe on Mars. Post-Cold War era, the International Space Station (ISS) was launched under the ownership of both Russia and the U.S. and is expected to be used through 2028. 

Image result for international space stationInternational Space Station (Image Source: NASA)

Throughout the 2016 US election, all GOP presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, supported increasing federal budget expenditure for space exploration. Unsurprisingly, however, President Trump has not followed through with his actions and has announced plans to cut NASA’s $19 billion budget by $200 million. This is despite signing the NASA Transit Authorization Act, a directive to get humans back onto the moon and eventually Mars. Although this may seem like a minor budget cut, it’s a huge step-down for scientists considering the federal government spent $45 billion (adjusted for inflation) on the moon landing in 1969.  If Trump were so concerned with “making America great again”, why would he attempt to stifle space exploration? Now, the U.S. is lagging behind other nations such as China, Japan, and India who are rapidly developing their own space programs. 

United States Politics and Space Exploration

President Trump signing NASA Transit Authorization Act, 2017 (Image Source: The Verge)

Although still in its infancy, space exploration is a promising alternative to combating climate change. Global carbon emissions continue to rise, and  15.6% of carbon emissions can be attributed to the U.S. The continuing work of NASA and the increasing success of private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, which operate at only a fraction of the cost of federal space projects, could potentially spark another Space Race putting the U.S. government at a disadvantage due to the recent budget cuts. Further investments into human colonization of other planets by the U.S. could spark other countries to follow its lead. 

The U.S. government must increase their financial support for NASA if they want to put another man on the moon. If the Trump administration insists on denying global climate change and continues to undercut space exploration projects, the future of humanity will be doubly in jeopardy. The emerging, so-called billionaire Space Race could accelerate space exploration and the colonization of Mars within the 21st century and turn fantasy into reality.