Climate Progress at M.I.T.: Whither the Manned Space Program?

I was on an energy panel today at a conference sponsored by Technology Review. The panel made it into the blog Responsible Nanotechnology. The summary of my remarks need clarification:

Romm predicts that the US space program will be essentially abandoned by 2025 because we will recognize that every available dollar must be put into combatting the effects of global climate change.

I believe that, thanks to the refusal of this administration to take any concrete action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, come 2009, the next President — and every subsequent President — will have to make action on climate a larger and larger priority in the federal budget. And if we don’t follow the advice of NASA’s James Hansen and aggressively deploy GHG-reducing technologies in the next decade, then, come the 2020s, we will be so desperate to deal with global warming that we will divert funds from many discretionary areas of the budget, such as the space program.

A NASA scientist came up to me afterwards to make sure that I was not speaking about abandoning NASA’s terrific work on Earth sciences, which has helped make everyone aware of the climate problem. Not at all. Though, sadly, again, the Bush administration has been busy cutting back that valuable research in order to fund the manned space program, including its plans to put humans back to the Moon and Mars. And yet, ironically, thanks to the Bush administration, it is increasingly doubtful we will put humans on Mars this century, at least.


This may well be a suprising point for many Americans — and I count myself as a space enthusiast — but on our current path of reckless disregard for the climate, the manned space program faces the certainty of slashed budgets.

We have passed the point at which avoiding catastrophic warming can be done easily. When the country final does confront the reality that business-as-usual energy policy risks 80-foot sea level rise as NASA itself warned this week, we will dramatically realign our priorities. At that point, which will almost certainly come by 2025, it is inconceivable we would ever spend the many tens of billions of dollars needed to put humans on Mars.

I will post a link to the video of this talk when it is available.