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.

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