2008-12-02

“DSCOVR killed by Cheney” - NASA Insider

An unnamed source within NASA intimately familiar with the mothballed Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) mission spoke to me on the condition of anonymity.

The story is incredible.

The big question has always been: who would want to kill a $100 million fully completed climate satellite that has sat in a box since the 2000 presidential election - even though dozens of leading scientists have demanded it be launched?

“Apparently Cheney was the hatchet man”, said the source. “Bush tried the keep his hands clean so he didn’t have direct involvement. It almost reminds me of the way Nixon used to operate…He assigned Cheney to be the hatchet man job on DSCOVR… Bush’s fingerprints weren’t on it but Cheney’s were… That’s what we heard through the grapevine.”

Our source did not want their identity revealed due to the pervasive culture of fear that permeates NASA under the Bush Administration: “People are somewhat intimidated – but it will all unravel. People will talk. It will come out. These things always do.”

So why would the Bush Administration want DSCOVR dead?

Our source offered these thoughts:

“The reputation in early days was that Al Gore thought of it, so when Bush was elected the mission basically just disappeared. It never got launched. And that had never happened at NASA before…That’s what so weird about it. The people at NASA Headquarters, the ones who won’t return your phone calls and won’t talk about it - their position is that this is just a normal course of events. It’s really strange. They are obviously covering something up.”

Beyond Gore, there was also the issue that DSCOVR would further our understanding of climate change - something the Bush Administration was never keen on. According to our source:

“The Whitehouse...felt threatened by [DSCOVR]. They didn’t want to hear anything about the Earth changing because that meant climate change, and that means CO2 and then they would have to regulate CO2 and they just wanted to avoid anything to do with that… Cheney was the chief hatch man on climate change in general. That’s the rumor that went around.”

Of course there is little chance of finding hard evidence of Whitehouse interference in this mission. I have filed numerous freedom of information requests with NASA, NOAA and the Whitehouse but came up with almost nothing. The Whitehouse is not even subject to FOIA anymore. Virtually all internal documents related to the DSCOVR mission have been kept secret.

Our source is not surprised: “That’s going to be really hard to nail because Cheney is deleting all his emails.”

It turns out that the mission was always a weird one. The NASA leadership insisted from the start that this spacecraft fly into orbit aboard the space shuttle. Those close to the mission were incredulous.

“There was the stupidity of putting it one the shuttle. That was just absolutely silly. You don’t launch satellites to that high of an orbit on the shuttle. The normal NASA tradition is to launch a satellite like that on a rocket.”

Because DSCOVR had to go far beyond the low Earth orbit accessible by the shuttle, a large rocket motor would need to fly aboard the shuttle to boost DSCOVR to L1 one million miles distant. Not a good idea.

“A big rocket motor with its fuel tanks filled is basically a bomb. Using the shuttle as a carrier for what is basically a bomb is not smart. It was absolutely stupid from the get-go.”

So why was the mission forced onto the shuttle?

“There’s no good reason. NASA will give you reasons but there’s actually no good reason. It was a very strange decision. It was a decision that the science team tried to fight but were never able to even get to first base on,” said our source.

They were told by NASA brass ‘we’re going to launch it on the shuttle and that’s that and don’t talk to us about it and stop complaining’”.

Our source also provides a chilling insider account of how the spacecraft was on track to be launched by another agency as late as last year, but was abruptly cancelled.

“It seemed that everything was on track to give the satellite to NOAA and they would be refurbish and launch it and then - boom. It just disappeared off the radar screen and no one would talk about it. It was very weird. It gave me the creeps actually. I’ve never seen that happen at NASA before, where things would disappear and no one would talk about them. It was like the way people would disappear in a dictatorship regime.”

Our source made no bones about the importance of this novel experiment to provide continuous monitoring of the daytime and nighttime profiles of our planet.

While DSCOVR’s destination L1 is one million miles towards the sun, there is another gravitational parking spot called L2 away from the Sun. If a similar spacecraft were also placed there, scientists would have simultaneous views of the both the daytime and nighttime profiles of our warming planet.

“Those two points would have been revolutionary for doing remote sensing of the Earth. All our satellites are in Sun-synchronous orbit meaning that they pass over the same time every day. So you have no way of getting information about the so-called diurnal cycle. DCSOVR and another satellite at L2 would mean the whole Earth would be covered.”

This combination of DSCOVR at L1 and similar spacecraft at L2 would also allow scientists to resolve glaring gaps in our understanding of the Earth’s energy budget and our understanding of global warming.

“Low Earth orbit satellites are not able to close the Earth’s outgoing radiation budget. It’s pretty far off - it’s quite an embarrassment… They can’t close the Earth’s radiation budget better than six watts per square meter. We have every reason to believe to that the Earth is out of balance by only one watt for square meter, which accounts the global warming. It was so embarrassing they kept it quiet for a while”

DSCOVR would not only solve that important problem but also provide a completely new perspective for NASA to carry out their important mandate of monitoring our changing planet.

“It would have been significant because it would mean that NASA was finally getting out of low Earth orbit, where they’re stuck. NASA doesn’t have any high Earth orbit satellites, not geostationary, not L1, not L2. It’s very weird. “

You would think that resolving the Earth’s energy budget at this point in history would be a priority for NASA, especially given they have a perfectly good $100 million instrument sitting in a box that would help them do that. But I digress…

NASA leadership have also frequently relied on the so-called Decadal Survey as a rationale for killing DSCOVR. This study was an effort to prioritize potential NASA missions for the next ten years. DSCOVR was not prominently featured in this assessment, but our source is not surprised.

“All the people involved in the Decadal Survey knew what NASA’s attitude toward DCSOVR was. They weren’t going to take on a political hot potato, why should they? It wasn’t that they thought it was a bad idea, it’s that they were politically sensitive… So they ignored it. So for NASA now to use their ignoring it as an argument against it is really hypocritical frankly.”

For some reason DSCOVR was also included in this assessment even though it was already built at a cost $100 million, something our source feels is incredible.

“It’s putting DSCOVR in the same hopper as un-built missions. And that’s kind of silly… It didn’t really need to be ranked by the decadal survey. Suppose every mission that NASA built was then subjected of to a panel of scientists to decide whether to launch it or not? That would be kind of silly wouldn’t it? The whole thing is just sheer hypocrisy.

What about the peculiar notion of the Air Force launching DSCOVR without the earth observing instruments as a way to save money? Our source it at a loss as to why NASA would ever consider doing that.

“That’s just bizarre… The instruments would have to be refurbished but NASA gave some ridiculously outsized estimate of what it would cost to do that. It was like ten times too high, in order to kill the idea of having Earth viewing instruments. There have been a lot of shenanigans around this mission. It’s embarrassing for me personally because I used to have huge respect for NASA and I’ve lost some. I’ve seen people do stuff that I would never thought I would see people do.”

Our contact was cautiously hopeful that things at NASA may change in the future.

“The Whitehouse created a climate of fear within government and that was intentional. But the administration is changing… Once Bush is truly out, things will start to unravel. Eventually the whole crowd at NASA headquarters will change and then there might be a new a spirit of openness. Or they might want to just bury the past and move on…”

And what about DSCOVR?

“It’s sad for NASA that they are stuck trying the trash DSCOVR when it’s actually a great idea…They hate it so much at this point that they are determined to put it in a box and keep it there forever…They’re just trying the figure out how to bury it.”

I will of course continue digging on DSCOVR to make sure that doesn’t happen. The cone of silence around this fascinating story is starting to crumble but the clock is ticking bring out the truth before the spacecraft is destroyed.

If anyone else close to this mission has information to share, Please contact me here in confidence. It will be our little secret…

2008-11-25

DSCOVR Article in Nature

I was contacted this month by Nature – the most prestigious science journal in the world – about my latest posting on the Deep Space Climate Observatory.

It seems their editors were interested in the news I broke that the Air Force was considering launching this $100 million mothballed spacecraft – minus the Earth observing instruments.

Last week they published an 800 word article based on information I provided to them about this bizarre story.

Alas, my extensive research on the DSCOVR mission was not mentioned in the Nature article, but such is the lot of a blogger.

More importantly, the exposure provided by this piece in one of the premier journals in the world will hopefully light a fire under NASA to not to kill this vital mission.

According to Nature, NASA “is now in talks with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Air Force about finally getting the probe off the ground. But the negotiations might mean that the spacecraft loses its Earth-observing instruments and instead goes into orbit with a remit to stare only at the Sun. An Earth-observing satellite that can see the whole planet is described as 'crucial' to climate research."

Lead researchers pull no punches when asked about the idiotic idea of blinding the spacecraft by removing the Earth observing instruments prior to launch.

“Stripping the two Earth-monitoring systems from DSCOVR to save money is an "appalling" idea, says Francisco Valero, the mission's principal investigator at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.”

The piece goes on to describe the unique perspective that DSCOVR would provide researchers studying climate change.

“Satellites in low-Earth orbit make similar energy measurements but can observe only small sections of Earth at a time. DSCOVR would offer a "global, rather than myopic, perspective of the planet", Valero says. One of its Earth-monitoring instruments, a spectroradiometer, would indirectly measure variables such as ozone levels, aerosols, cloud thickness and water vapour. The other, a radiometer, would measure reflected and emitted radiation for the whole planet.”

However the clock is ticking on saving this mission from powerful people that want to destroy the spacecraft. Many scientists are starting to publicly voice their support for this critical mission and the data it would provide from vantage of Lagrangian point L1, one million miles away.

"In March 2008, the Ernst StrĂ¼ngmann Foundation in Frankfurt, Germany, held an invitation-only forum for 44 top climate scientists. Many participants, none of whom was directly involved with DSCOVR, agreed that satellite observations of Earth from L-1 are essential for assessing changes in cloud cover and climate.”

I will continue to rake up more muck on this incredible story, and it seems like we are getting somewhere. My last posting on DSCOVR at Desmog Blog.com was read 32,000 times.

2008-05-23

Congress Orders Action on DSCOVR

In a stunning break from years of inaction, the US Congress has tabled legislation ordering NASA to finally deal with the critically important Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008 was submitted last week to the House of Representatives. Section 207 of this Act is plainly entitled: “Plan For Disposition Of Deep Space Climate Observatory.

You can bet certain NASA bigwigs are not happy about this remarkable development.

So far the nation's space agency brass has consistently refused to release any internal documents on why they canceled such vital mission, even after spending over $100 million of taxpayer’s money building it. They may have misled the media about the costs of launching the mission. They also apparently refused to respond to another US government agency that wants to take over the mission, at minimal cost to NASA.

If this Act becomes law, NASA is finally going to have to start coughing up some answers. First NASA must break their years of silence on this mothballed mission and come up with a plan that will:

“Include such options as using the parts of the spacecraft in the development and assembly of other science missions, transferring the spacecraft to another agency, reconfiguring the spacecraft for another Earth science mission, establishing a public-private partnership for the mission, and entering into an international cooperative partnership to use the spacecraft for its primary or other purposes. The plan shall include an estimate of budgetary resources and schedules required to implement each of the options.”


Next, NASA will be forced to consult with the myriad of other US agencies and foreign governments that have volunteered to launch this mission themselves or in partnership with a clearly disinterested NASA leadership.

Specifically, NASA must: “Consult, as necessary, with other Federal agencies, industry, academic institutions, and international space agencies in developing the plan.”

Lastly, NASA must report to both the congress and senate within 180 days of the passage of the Act, what their mandated plans are for DSCOVR.

This is a major development in this strange story. For the uninitiated, DSCOVR is already built at a cost of over $100 million to NASA yet has remained mothballed for years, due ostensibly to “competing priorities.”

Dozens of leading scientists were outraged by this decision and wrote letters expressing their support for this critically important mission.

DSCOVR is designed to view the planet from the unique vantage point of one million miles distant, and many of these scientists believe it would immediately settle any remaining honest debate on the origins or seriousness of global warming.

My muck-raking investigation earlier this year showed that this mission could be launched and operated at a cost to NASA of only $55 million – less than 0.3% of NASA’s annual budget.

Last week, I showed that the Whitehouse Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), had a number of “predecisional draft documents that include OSTP’s deliberative comments” relating to the DSCOVR mission.

The Whitehouse refused to release these documents in spite of my Freedom of Information request. Why the Bush administration was involved in consultations about the mission is anyone’s guess, but it does raise some interesting questions...

Was DSCOVR ash-canned by George Bush ?

Partisan beltway politics?

Office politics within the space agency?

We may never know the real reasons why such a vitally important scientific mission like DSCOVR was plagued by so much politics, but I certainly have my suspicions.

In the meantime, this very welcome action from Congress may mean that DSCOVR will finally break free of it’s Earthly bonds and be launched one million miles towards the sun.

Then we will finally be able to accurately measure the energy budget of our warming planet – widely regarded as the most pressing problem facing humanity today. Who could possibly object to that?

This piece was published on DeSmog blog on May 21, 2008.

2008-05-13

Whitehouse Withholds DSCOVR Documents

The Bush Whitehouse continues to stonewall around the critically important Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).

I recently received a long-overdue response to a freedom of information request about the mission. After waiting six months, thirteen documents were located – and all were withheld from release.

So why did the Whitehouse even have "predecisional draft documents that include...deliberative comments" about the DSCOVR mission? Does this indicate the Bush administration had a direct hand in killing this project?

NASA strangely mothballed this unique spacecraft after spending over $100 million building it. It remains fully completed and in a box at the Goddard Space Center in Maryland. Senior scientists believe this spacecraft could almost immediately resolve any remaining honest debate about the seriousness or causes of climate change.

An investigation by DeSmog Blog earlier this year showed that this mission could be launched and operated at a cost to NASA of only $55 million – less than 0.3% of NASA’s annual budget.

I have been digging for answers on this strange case since 2006. Last October I filed freedom of information request to the Whitehouse Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Executive Office of the President. This seems to be the only office at the Whitehouse that is still subject to Freedom of information legislation.

As usual, nothing happened for months and I emailed them several times to find out what was going on. Government bodies have a duty to respond to requests within 20 working days. By now it was close to 120.

At this point I had not even received an acknowledgement letter. It finally arrived last month. And guess what? They withheld all the documents touching on or relating to the DSCOVR mission.

Specifically, Whitehouse Deputy General Counsel Rachael Leonard stated that their office had “found 13 responsive documents, however, eight of these documents are being withheld pursuant to FOIA exemptions (b)(5) and (b)(2). Specifically, these documents are predecisional draft documents that include OSTP’s deliberative comments, and as such are exempt from disclosure under FOIA exemption (b)(5).”

The other five documents were withheld by the OSTP because they “have been referred to other agencies for their review”.

In other words after six months of delay, the Whitehouse has refused to release any documents relating to DSCOVR.

All of which begs the question, why does the Whitehouse even have any documents relating to the DSCOVR mission? Especially,“predecisional draft documents that include OSTP’s deliberative comments”? What possible comments or input could the Whitehouse have on a specific NASA project like DCSOVR?

Lets have a closer look at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. It is headed by Dr. John Marburger, who has in the past seemed an apologist for the Bush Administration, in response to charges from the scientific community that the Whitehouse manipulates climate science to downplay the dangers of climate change.

Many in the science community are critical of Marbuger for his seeming complicity in scientific censorship.

A report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists stated that "the scope and scale of the manipulation, suppression and misrepresentation of science by the Bush administration is unprecedented."

A second report in 2007 surveyed 1600 climate scientists in the US and found that “nearly half of all respondents (46 percent) perceived or personally experienced pressure to eliminate the words "climate change," "global warming," or other similar terms from a variety of communications.

Marburger himself seems to be taking his marching orders from George Bush to realign NASA’s space programs to focus on missions that will benefit America’s economy rather than the advancement of science, such as climate change.

In a keynote address he gave at NASA headquarters in 2006, he stated:

“As I see it, questions about the vision boil down to whether we want to incorporate the Solar System in our economic sphere, or not. Our national policy, declared by President Bush and endorsed by Congress last December in the NASA authorization act, affirms that, ‘The fundamental goal of this vision is to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program.’ So at least for now the question has been decided in the affirmative.”

The DSCOVR mission hardly fits that bill. It is primarily designed to accurately measure the energy budget of our warming planet - for the first time ever.


In contrast, the Bush administration seems much more interested in having NASA mine the moon - and actively suppressing rather than advancing climate science.

One thing is certain – this administration is not shy about imposing its will on the scientific community.


Would the thirteen documents withheld by the Whitehouse prove that the Bush administration killed the DSCOVR mission? We may never know, but I will keep digging.

This was published on Desmog blog on May 13, 2008.

2008-04-22

Did NASA Mislead the Media About the DSCOVR Climate Project?

New information provided by inside sources to DeSmogBlog raises questions about public statements from NASA when asked by the media about the cost of launching Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).

The date was January 24, 2008. Four NASA senior brass had just finished delivering a rambling one hour news briefing on their much-maligned Earth sciences program - noteworthy only in that there was no news. No new announcements. No new missions.

Seth Borenstein, the science reporter for Associated Press rose to ask the first question, specifically about why NASA had not launched DSCOVR.

This spacecraft is already built at a cost of over $100 million to NASA yet has remained mothballed for years, due ostensibly to “competing priorities.” DSCOVR is designed to view the planet from the unique vantage point of one million miles distant, and according to leading researchers would immediately settle any remaining debate on the origins or seriousness of global warming.

NASA Associate Administrator Alan Stern responded to Mr. Borenstein’s pointed question by saying that it was largely a matter of money:

The analysis that I have seen indicates that its about a $200 million project to bring the satellite back to readiness for flight, to do the launch, and the flight mission.”
$200 million seems like a lot. Was Mr. Borenstein told the truth? Perhaps not.

It seems there is a 193-page document dated February 2006 entitled “Solar Wind Trade Study” that details to cost of refurbishing, launching and operating DSCOVR in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Interestingly, the document was neither released nor referenced in any of the materials accessed through recent freedom of information requests, either to NASA or NOAA.

For the record, I had requested “any records, reports, correspondence, emails, memos, minutes, or other documents whatsoever touching on, or relating to the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) from the period January 1, 2000 to the present.”

However, sources close to the mission have confirmed the document exists and provided selected details of its contents. DeSmog Blog is of course happy to share these details with the entire world.

In 2006, NOAA requested that the mission be transferred to them. NASA has never responded. This report was pivotal to this request and explored three cost sharing scenarios between NOAA and NASA to launch and operate DSCOVR.

The cheap scenario would see DSCOVR fly on a Ukrainian Tsyklon rocket – the most reliable launch vehicle in the world. The total cost of this mission would be around $80 million to launch and operate DSCOVR for five years.

The catch is that this bare bones scenario would only allow DSCOVR to monitor solar storms to provide early warning for low earth orbit satellites from space weather. This scenario would not provide funding for DSCOVR to monitor the Earth.

The medium cost scenario would see DSCOVR launched on an American-built Space X rocket at a cost of approximately $55 million to NASA and the remainder covered by NOAA. This would pay for refurbishing, launching and operating DSCOVR for five years and include the important Earth-monitoring and climate measurements that spacecraft was designed to do.

The high-cost scenario involves launching DSCOVR on a Delta rocket at a cost of about $160 million, shared between NASA and NOAA.

NASA has reasons to oppose option one, including a bureaucratic requirement to “fly American”, both for personnel receiving NASA funding, and its spacecraft. Even if the Tsyklon is a better, cheaper, more reliable launch vehicle than anything produced in the US, this option is a non-starter for the pencil pushers in NASA HQ.

However option two would not be verboten, given that the Space X rocket is built in US. This would only cost NASA a mere $55 million, not $200 million as Alan Stern told Seth Borenstein at the January NASA news briefing.

To put this in perspective, the $55 million it would cost NASA to refurbish, launch and operate DSCOVR for five years is a mere 0.3% of NASA’s annual budget. It is also less than 3% of what the space agency spends every year on the International Space Station – an orbiting installation that has been derided by many in the scientific community as entirely useless.

So why didn’t NASA brass share this with Mr. Borenstein?

Why wasn’t this report released (or referenced) in materials provided to Desmog Blog through freedom of information requests addressed to NASA, NOAA or the Whitehouse?

What exactly are these government agencies trying to hide?

DeSmog Blog will keep digging for information on this critical issue. Stay tuned…

This was published on Desmog Blog on April 18, 2008.

2008-03-26

Revealed - Bush Killed DSCOVR Mission

Fresh documents accessed from the US government show the George Bush had a direct hand in killing the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).

In one of three badly redacted letters - released after a delay more than three times longer than the legal limit - NASA's Associate Administrator for Earth Science, Ghassem Asrar, says: "Due to Space Shuttle manifesting constraints recently directed by the President, the DSCOVR mission is currently without a launch opportunity” (my emphasis).

This critical spacecraft was designed to monitor the energy budget of the planet from the unique vantage of 1 million miles away. NASA strangely canceled the project after spending over $100 million building it. Prominent members of the scientific community were outraged at the decision. You can view their laundry list of letters here.

Another US government agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), requested that NASA transfer the mission to them. Not only did NASA not provide to spacecraft, they did not even respond to the request.

Last fall, I filed a freedom of information request to NOAA to shed some light on this mystery. As usual, the documents were several months overdue and heavily censored. However, what was released reveals how George Bush’s Whitehouse is interfering in NASA’s science program, and suppressing climate science.

In a letter dated August 31, 2004, Dr. Robert Charlson expresses his frustration to a colleague at the University of New Hampshire:
“I have exchanged several letters with NASA Headquarters about DSCOVR, and am concerned that I can’t get a straight answer from them…We have spent a lot of money and personal effort to establish EOS [NASA’s Earth Observing System] and it’s associated programs and it would be tragic to cut them off before they can bear fruit. To further constrain our research field would indicate that NASA headquarters may be deliberately trying to de-emphasize climate science.”

Dr. Charlson makes the scientific importance of DSCOVR plain in another letter addressed to NASA headquarters:

“Again, I urge you to press the case for launching and operating DSCOVR so that we in the scientific community can make real progress towards understanding climate and the impacts human activity on it. Without it, will continue to be stuck with excessive uncertainties and dependence upon assumptions instead of data.”

In response to Dr. Charlson’s plea for action, Associate Administrator for Earth Science Ghassem Asrar reveals that DSCOVR was nixed by NASA due to directions from the Whitehouse:

“It is widely recognized that the science offered by DSCOVR would help make possible an integrated self-consistent global database for studying the extent of regional and global climate change. Due to Space Shuttle manifesting constraints recently directed by the President, the DSCOVR mission is currently without a launch opportunity.”

By 2005, NASA was through pretending this mission would ever fly under their watch. Associate Administrator Dr. Mary Cleave stated plainly in a letter dated December 2005:

“Restrictions for the remaining Space Shuttle missions continue to preclude remainfesting DSCOVR for launch, a situation that is not expected to change…Unfortunately, the significant funding required to ready and launch DSCOVR within the context of competing priorities and the state of the budget for the foreseeable future precludes continuation of the project.”

These letters provide clear evidence that at the very least, George Bush’s Mars mission boondoggle helped killed DSCOVR. However, there is much that remains a mystery.

If the decision to kill DSCOVR is simply about money, why won’t NASA allow another US government agency launch it? Why are NASA, NOAA and the Whitehouse so secretive about releasing the documents relating to DSCOVR? If NASA is serious about climate research, why would they mothball a project so important to the scientific community, citing “competing priorities”? Is this another example of NASA trying to silence climate science?

Next posting: How NASA lied about this mission to the media.

2008-02-21

NOAA Stonewalls on DCSOVR Documents

The stonewalling on DSCOVR documents continues, this time with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

To recap, NASA was given over $100 million in taxpayers money to build the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a spacecraft designed to measure the energy budget of our warming planet from the unique vantage of a million miles away.

Even though it is fully completed over five years ago, DSCOVR is still sitting in a box at the Goddard Space Centre – likely for political reasons.

The mission was originally promoted by Al Gore – a liability when George Bush and Dick Cheney remain in the Whitehouse. DSCOVR would also immediately settle any remaining debate about the origins of climate change – a potential wrinkle for the $8 trillion oil industry. NASA is also threatened by DSCOVR because the mission could call into question the billions of dollars they have invested low Earth orbit satellites.

Low orbit satellites are useful but they fly so close to the planet it is like trying to map an elephant using a microscope. Because DSCOVR would orbit over 1,000 times farther away, it would for the first time allow us able to monitor the entire sunlit disc of our planet and resolve some glaring discrepancies in our understanding of the planet's energy budget. If DSCOVR works better than what has been done for decades, some NASA heads could roll.

DeSmog Blog has been doing an investigative series on this unique spacecraft since September and the story just keeps getting weirder.

NASA quietly killed DSCOVR in 2006 citing "competing priorities". Using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), I tried unsuccessfully for over a year to extract any internal documents from NASA about why the project was cancelled. What was released instead was letters from over thirty leading scientists expressing concern that this vital mission was not going forward. You can view them here.

Then I tried to digging documents out of the Whitehouse. If the Bush Administration had a hand in killing the mission, it seemed reasonable that there might be a paper trail. We will never know. I received a short letter from Whitehouse Deputy General Counsel F. Andrew Turley, stating:

"Please be advised that the Office of the Administration, Executive Office of the President is not subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Your letter therefore is returned without further action."

Next I turned to NOAA. Last year, NOAA apparently requested that the entire mission be transferred over to them, at no cost to NASA. Strangely there has been no response from NASA. Meanwhile there is the real worry that NASA may destroy or cannibalize the spacecraft to cover their tracks.

So I filed a third information request last year, this time with NOAA. The government stonewalling has kicked in again.

My request was sent in November. I was told my documents would be emailed on December 11. Then I got call from NOAA General Counsel Hugh Schratwieser before Christmas telling me that it going to take longer than they thought but I should get the document package in early January. Mr. Schratwieser also assured me NOAA takes pride in their compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and that I shouldn't worry.

Then silence. I have since sent five unanswered emails to NOAA requesting updates on my request. Government bodies like NOAA have a legal obligation to respond to FOIA requests in 20 working days. It is now over three times that long and counting.

Since I was repeatedly told over the last two months that the package of documents was very close to being assembled, I can only assume that it is now complete but being withheld for political reasons. What could be in there that they are so worried about?

If members of media want to ask what the hold up is, I encourage them to contact Mr. Schratwieser directly at 301-713-9684.

This was published on Desmog Blog on Feb. 19th, 2008. Documents started to be released by NOAA the next day. Stay tuned...