Republicans warned NASA on Tuesday that promoting the Biden administration’s “woke” agenda, including diversity initiatives and combating climate change, could threaten the bipartisan support historically enjoyed by the space agency.
“We’ve got a Republican House of Representatives now,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee said at a hearing. “If NASA is seen as partisan, that is very bad for space and space exploration.”
The rub: Republicans raised concerns about two issues: $22M in NASA’s FY24 budget request for an Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, and a rule proposed in November that would require contractors working with NASA to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and set targets to reduce them.
“I do worry sometimes that we may be losing focus on what makes America the preeminent space faring nation,” Cruz said. “If we show up second at the Shackleton Crater, I highly doubt the Chinese Communist Party will care much about how we’ve advanced an ‘Equity Action Plan.’”
NASA’s defense: Administrator Bill Nelson, who served on the committee alongside many of the current members before leading the space agency, defended NASA’s role in monitoring and combating climate change.
“You and I in this committee have a different approach to what is happening to the Earth’s climate,” he told Cruz. “It so happens that NASA is in the middle of this.”
He also clarified the parameters for the proposed rule, saying that he could waive the requirement to cut emissions for small businesses, for whom doing so could pose a heavy burden.
The China problem: Republican senators repeatedly pitted NASA’s desire to invest in diversity and climate change initiatives against the space agency’s ability to compete with China, which has announced its own ambitious space agenda, including a crewed Moon landing.
“You’ve indicated that China is a serious competitor here. In the budget, it is worth noting that China is mentioned one time in the budget…but climate and DEI-related items are mentioned 153 times,” said Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-MO), ranking member of the panel’s space and science subcommittee. “NASA has had such a great reputation. I do not want to see NASA dragged into these political fights.”