Obama expands his executive power beyond Earth

October 14, 2016

With 100 days to go in his presidency, President Obama still has a length to-do list. USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — President Obama has expanded his use of executive power beyond bounds of earth, signing an executive order Thursday to prepare the federal government to deal with the effects of space weather events.

That space weather — which includes phenomena like solar flares, geomagnetic disturbances — can have big effects on everyday technologies like global positioning systems, satellite communication and aviation.

And if the weather is extreme enough, Obama said, it “has the potential to simultaneously affect and disrupt health and safety across entire continents.” Solar winds could disable the electrical power grid, resulting in “cascading failures” that would affect almost every area of modern life — including basic health and safety issues like the water supply.

The executive order came as Obama prepared to travel to Pittsburgh for a technology conference focusing on artificial intelligence, space exploration, clean energy and precision medicine.

Like many executive orders, Obama’s directive instructs executive branch agencies on their responsibilities in preparing and responding to space weather events. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy will coordinate the efforts of agencies across the government, including Defense, Commerce, Energy and NASA, which will work together to improve their ability to forecast space weather events and protect critical infrastructure from their effects.

Obama also ordered the release of federal data on previous space weather events.

Obama’s executive order also made public for the first time the existence of a previously unknown secret policy directive he signed on July 15. Presidential Policy Directive 40 established a new national continuity policy that defined the “national essential functions” of the federal government. Such directives, known as PPDs, are an often secret form of executive order in the realm of national security.