Published on Saturday, July 22, 2006 by the New York Times
From 2002 until this year, NASAâ€™s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: â€œTo understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.â€
In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase â€œto understand and protect our home planetâ€ deleted. In this yearâ€™s budget and planning documents, the agencyâ€™s mission is â€œto pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.â€
David E. Steitz, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said the aim was to square the statement with President Bushâ€™s goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.
But the change comes as an unwelcome surprise to many NASA scientists, who say the â€œunderstand and protectâ€ phrase was not merely window dressing but actively influenced the shaping and execution of research priorities. Without it, these scientists say, there will be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.