NASA Defies Donald Trump
Space scientists go rogue on Twitter
On Jan. 24, 2017, Pres. Donald Trump issued an internal memo to several federal agencies that handle climate change, instructing them to shut down their social media accounts. The new administration also shuttered the White House’s own climate change websites. Those hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency soon went dark, as well.
For a few glorious hours, some social media accounts within the U.S. national parks system revolted — and issued tweet after wonderful tweet underscoring the scientific proof of human-driven climate change.
Badlands National Park in South Dakota led the charge. The park’s account posted stark messages about climate change for hours before it went silent. During that silence, someone scrubbed the account clean of the offending tweets. Although the tweets disappeared from the feed, various news agencies preserved them.
Even better, though, has been the persistent defiance of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. To be clear, NASA wasn’t part of the original gag order. For whatever reason — possibly because Trump’s transition team includes people who support NASA rather than seek its destruction — the space agency remains one of the lone federal departments still tweeting climate change facts in the face of Trump’s willful ignorance.
NASA is a big agency and it runs several different Twitter accounts. One of those — @NASAClimate — tweets exclusively about climate issues. It hasn’t slowed down since the inauguration.
On Jan. 24, 2017, The Verge science writer Loren Grush reported no problems between the White House and the space agency.
“As of 3PM ET,” she wrote on Twitter. “NASA’s Science Mission Directorate says it’s business as usual today and there’s been no directive to stop communicating.” Later, she speculated this may be because of NASA’s independent nature and the phrasing of its charter.
According to that charter, NASA must “provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning … its activities and the results thereof.” Which is certainly what the space agency has done through its various climate outlets in the last few days. Even its website dedicated to climate change is still up and running.
NASA is safe … for now. Trump — as is tradition — will appoint an administrator and deputy administrator for the space agency. Which sounds scary, but early indications are positive. Most of the people handling NASA during the Trump transition seem to know their science.
Chris Shank worked at NASA from 2005 to 2009. Jack Burns is a university professor who once chaired the NASA Advisory Council’s science committee. Greg Autry is a University of Southern California professor who specializes in commercial space travel. The other assorted members are equally impressive.
But that doesn’t mean Trump won’t ask NASA to refocus its efforts on space at the cost of Earth. Currently, around 10 percent of NASA’s budget is set aside for the study our planet, including investigation of climate change.
What’s ironic and sad is that NASA has focused more and more on Earth in the last few years as a survival strategy. When fiscal hawks descend on the federal budget, they often look to NASA’s $18-billion slice as a good place to start trimming.
Just last month, NASA announced it would use a satellite called a Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory to track the Earth’s carbon and methane levels in real time. The space agency said the project would cost a paltry $166 million over the next five years. Time will tell if Trump’s team will let NASA proceed with the plan.
For now, the White House seems focused on the EPA. In a surprise announcement on Jan. 25, Trump’s team announced it would hold and vet all new EPA studies before publication. If this trend continues, it probably won’t be long until Trump turns his anti-climate change focus on the space agency.
Until then, NASA continues to spread the word about climate change. And it’s not the only agency defying Trump. In what seems to be a small-scale revolt against the new President, the Death Valley National Park Twitter account posted a picture of a victim of America’s World War II Japanese internment camps.
This was an unsubtle jab against Trump’s proposed immigration policies, which would seek to restrict immigrants from so-called “high-risk” countries.
In another act of rebellion, someone started an alternative Badlands National Park Twitter Twitter account. Whoever is running the account has insinuated an official connection with the park, but that remains unclear.
The new account, which looks almost identical to the official account, began posting about climate change and calling Trump on his bullshit.
“Can’t wait for President Trump to call us FAKE NEWS,” a pinned tweet reads. “You can take our official twitter, but you’ll never take our free time!”
Even better, Trump’s anti-science policies have inspired what may be the next great demonstration against him. Both the rogue national park account and a rogue NASA account mentioned an upcoming pro-science march on Washington, D.C.
The new movement hasn’t announced a date yet, but it has begun organizing. The push back from federal employees against the incoming administration appears unprecedented. With the gag order and strict oversight rules on new publications, Trump’s team is telling federal scientists to ignore their own senses.
It won’t work. They’ve already begun to fight through rogue Twitter accounts and anonymous leaks to the press. Soon, they’ll join thousands of others as they march on Washington D.C. in solidarity with science itself.
This is where we are now people, one of the methods by which we divine truth of our place in the universe is under attack. Stand with the scientists and defend it with your all.
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