NASA deletes planet-protecting phrasing from mission statement

The phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” was quietly deleted from NASA’s mission statement in February; the agency’s mission now is “to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.” NASA’s 19,000 employees were neither consulted nor informed ahead of time of the deletion. The planet-protection phrase had been added to the mission statement in 2002; scientists say it shaped research priorities, and the deletion will reduce incentive for research on phenomena like — oh, to pick one at random — climate change. Agency spokesflack David Steitz said the change reflected President Bush’s goal of flying people to the moon and Mars. The deleted phrase was oft-repeated last winter by top NASA climate scientist James Hansen, whose advocacy on the issue of global warming has famously drawn censorious pressure from political appointees; Steitz said Hansen’s use of the phrase and its subsequent disappearance from the mission statement was “pure coincidence.”