Cheney mothballed $100 million scientific satellite

Bush-Cheney’s pro-oil, anti-Gore agenda led them to stick a new $100 million earth science satellite — just days from launch — in a warehouse:

Al Gore proposed the satellite in 1998, at the National Innovation Summit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Gazing skyward from the podium, the vice president described a spacecraft that would travel a full million miles from Earth to a gravity-neutral spot known as the L1 Lagrangian point, where it would remain fixed in place, facing the sunlit half of our planet. It would stream back to NASA video of our spherical home, and the footage would be broadcast continuously over the Web.

Not only would the satellite provide “a clearer view of our world,” Gore promised, but it would also offer “tremendous scientific value” by carrying into space two instruments built to study climate change: EPIC, a polychromatic imaging camera made to measure cloud reflectivity and atmospheric levels of aerosols, ozone and water vapor; and NISTAR, a radiometer. NISTAR was especially important: Out in deep space, it would do something that scientists are still unable to do today directly and continuously monitor the Earth’s albedo, or the amount of solar energy that our planet reflects into space versus the amount it absorbs.

We know some things about the Earth’s albedo. We know that solar radiation is both absorbed and reflected everywhere on Earth, by granite mountaintops in New Hampshire and desert dunes in Saudi Arabia. We know that cloud cover also reflects some of it. We also know that increased concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are currently causing the planet to retain more solar energy than it once did. But there is much we don’t know, because we don’t have a way to directly and constantly monitor albedo on a global scale—that is, to directly observe a key indicator of global warming….

[Our existing] spacecraft are all relatively close—at least 50 times as close as the L1 point—so their utility is limited. No space agency has ever launched a satellite capable ofseeing the whole Earth as a single, solar-energy-processing orb…

But in 2001, just a few months after the inauguration of George W. Bush, Triana’s launch plan was quietly put on hold. “We were preparing to transport it to the launch site when we heard,” Rosanova says. Instead, they wheeled the $100-million satellite into storage… the only satellite that NASA has built but never launched.

…In his 2009 book Our Choice, Gore wrote, “The Bush Cheney administration canceled the launch within days of taking office on January 20, 2001, and forced NASA to put the satellite into storage.” Warren Wiscombe, a senior physical scientist at NASA, blames a Bush-era “hostility” to earth science at NASA. “As to who ordered the axing of the mission,” he says, “we’ll never know, but the word we got was that Dick Cheney was behind it.”

…Francisco Valero, the physicist who led DSCOVR’s design team, is familiar with bureaucratic black holes…. Valero fled his native Argentina in 1968 after a military coup. Amid widespread student protests, soldiers showed up at his university lab with machine guns to bar him from entry. He came to the U.S. so that he could do science at a remove from political uproar. Instead, he wound up in another kind of maelstrom. Since DSCOVR was shelved, Valero has persistently and publicly raised questions about the direction of NASA’s earth-science program, and he has questioned where funds earmarked for DSCOVR have gone. In 2004, when Ukraine offered to send DSCOVR to L1 on a Ukrainian rocket—for free—Valero lobbied NASA to accept. “The satellite was built, the launch was free, and what did NASA say? The launch wouldn’t be safe for the satellite.” He shook his head in disdain. “I tell you, I lose sleep thinking about this stuff.” Much of Valero’s career focused on the effects that human activity can have on the Earth’s albedo, and when the opportunity to lead DSCOVR arose, he immediately recognized its potential. “With low-Earth-orbiting satellites, you can’t get that,” he said. “It’s like you’re reading a book with only one letter on each page. You can’t get the whole story.”

For Valero, DSCOVR isn’t merely a satellite—it’s part of the solution to one of the most pressing issues of our time. “We just need the truth,” he said. “We need good science. If we get DSCOVR launched, we’ll have that. And then the politicians will have something solid to base their arguments on.”

Even in retirement, Dick Cheney continues harming America and our planet.

Posted by James on Tuesday, March 22, 2011