Congress Orders NASA to Deal With 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.

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.

Last week, Desmog Blog revealed 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 the Freedom of Information request filed by Desmog Blog. 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?

Editor's note: Eureka! As loyal readers will know DeSmog has been hammering away at the DSCOVR story for close to a year now and it looks like there might finally be a light at the tunnel! Our writer, Mitch Anderson won't admit it (he's way to humble for that) but there's no doubt that his investigation payed a role in this revelation today. While mainstream media ignored this story, Mitch hammered away at it with FOIA requests to NASA, NOAA and the White House, amazing in-depth researcher, inside sources and an amazing drive to get to the bottom of this story.


“Congress Orders NASA to Deal With DSCOVR

Did they?

If this Act becomes law …”

Ah, so they actually didn’t order NASA to do anything yet.

“We never know the real reasons why such a vitally important scientific mission like DSCOVR was plagued by so much politics”

GUFFAW! You’ve gotta be joking, right? Like the Goresat wasn’t originally concieved as a political stunt by, uh, what’s his name? Oh, yeah, Al Gore.

“but I certainly have my suspicions.”

Rove, you magnificent bastard!
Be sure to let us know all your suspicions, Sherlock.

The Rob-troll claims that DSCOVR was a “political stunt”. But that is clearly a politically motivated lie!

How can science be political? - IT CANNOT!

Science is observation and measurement of nature, where theories are devised in an attempt to understand the observations and measurements. There is no room for politics in science.

It is people that think like Rob, many who work for the fossil-fuel industry that paid for the corrupt politically-motivated faux-science in the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine’s ‘Review’. In-order to dupe readers about the reality of climate science. Cancelling DSCOVR, was just part of the process. It is more than likely that Exxon told the Bush Administration that they wanted DSCOVR cancelled. Just like Randy Randol’s February 6, 2001, fax to the Bush team calling for the removal of Dr. Robert Watson, the then chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since 1996.
Google: Watson IPCC Exxon

Or see:
Includes a scan of the Randy Randol fax!
“Can Watson be replaced now at the request of the U.S.?” See page 52
Randol also wanted other individuals removed from their posts.

But choosing to cancel DSCOVR, secretly, without reason IS A POLITICALLY DECEITFUL ACT! It’s because the evidence was likely to be AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH that could not be ignored, that would almost certainly reveal problems that Bush and his Fossil-FOOLS wanted to sweep under the carpet and pretend didn’t exist for as long as possible.

It is therefore unsurprising that the Bush mal-Administration connived to pull the plug on DSCOVR!

See The DSCOVR Mission Summary

Stop bashing NASA. Except for a few senior, political appointees whose job it is to serve the US administration directly, it is VERY unlikely that NASA scientists are anything but angry about how this mission has been shelved.

Your comment about academic jealousy is, well, idiotic, and seems to reflect a pretty severe ignorance about how remote sensing people like to work. Sure, satellite observations at around 720km are priceless for the issues they have been designed for, but RS people use other observations frequently to test models developed using high res, multispectral observations. Better for you to just stop speculating so irrationally and keep to the facts, few though they yet appear to be.

I know some of these NASA folks, program managers and scientists. They’re a serious lot and they simply do not engage in this sort of thing, trying to kill missions that are ready to be launched or participating in political conspiracies. Gimme a friggin’ break. They do value their jobs, however, and the current chill within the US Governmental science community arises because of a strong, top-down effort to ensure that publicly employed scientists serve their political masters. (The same problem exists in Canada, by the way. Although it has become much worse in the past few years, it began prior to the present government’s tenure.)

I won’t try to overgeneralize - NASA is a massive organization and I only know a very small number of their people. Maybe there are folks there who are too ready to cave to political pressure (apart from the obvious political appointees, whose job it is to apply that pressure from within the organization). But you should not overgeneralize either, particularly in this case, where there is probably no conspiracy at all, just another instance where a few casual words from any of a number of former oil industry execs currently employed by the US Administration would have set of a chain reaction that shelved this satellite and its important mission indefinitely.

Please don’t tar NASA as a whole with this oily brush unless you have real evidence that NASA has responsibility for the mess.

Thanks for the constructive feedback, I have made some minor edits to clarify that the problem at NASA around this mission appears to be at the top. This administration seems not to hesitate in imposing it’s will on NASA, particularly around the critical issue of climate change. I hope for better days ahead for the space agency and the dedicated people that work there.

As far as your point that this may be “just another instance where a few casual words from any of a number of former oil industry execs currently employed by the US Administration would have set of a chain reaction that shelved this satellite and its important mission indefinitely”, why should we tolerate such a situation? It is unconscionable that compromised laypeople, invisible and unaccountable to the public, could and do have such influence over the pursuit of science.

Thanks - I was trying to be constructive (not always the most prominent sort of contribution on this blog, but, heck, hope springs eternal!).

I agree with the thrust of your rhetorical question: why should be tolerate this sort of politically-motivated interference? I think we should not tolerate it, particularly in instances where the political effort is dedicated to hiding science around a reality that affects the welfare of many people. [[That’s the cue for the trolls to step in and claim that CC doesn’t exist, if it does exist it isn’t caused by people, or if it’s caused by people, it’s not going to hurt anyone or anything. And all because they know a statistical economist in Guelph who hates hockey… Perhaps we can just agree in advance to ignore the trolls’ absurdist claims?]]

There’s a line somewhere between governmental scientists getting to do and say whatever they want vs the opposite extreme where they only get to do or say exactly what the politicians decide is in their selfish best interests. There can be an honest debate about this topic. But in the US, and here in Canada too, I believe, the line has been redrawn many times recently and every time it gets redrawn it shifts a little further toward strict control, which is often not in the public interest.

In the case of this satellite, it’s a bit of a stretch to think that the thing was shelved for any reason except the Administrations strenuous dislike of any sort of reality-based climate policy. Perhaps I am being cynical… but I don’t believe so. And if that’s the case, we should certainly NOT accept that and Congress’ recent demand that NASA explain the situation is a useful step toward revealing what has transpired to prevent the mission launch.

Better news is that the current administration is probably almost as bad as possible. McCain or Obama will probably be highly imperfect presidents but they would have to really make a superhuman effort to be more imperfect than the current lot. I am at a loss to understand why the current Admin in the US and to some extent our own governments (not just Conservative) have decided that reality can be a partisan issue.


There is that nagging “If” but it seems that somebody has noticed this issue (likely due in part to your efforts) and we’ll hear more about it soon. How long after an act is tabled does it usually take to become law? Doubtless it will be passed, but I wonder how easy it would be to amend section 207. Section 206 also looked interesting. I wonder why solar and aerosol studies are lumped in something called “Glory Mission”.

While I don’t agree with the political accusations surrounding DSCVR, any measures that allow for more openness and transparency in how government operates is welcome.

The biggest blow against DSCVR was the Columbia disaster. The second was the massive cost overruns on the ISS and the ongoing and rapidly increasing costs for the shuttle replacement.

DSCVR was not the only mission to take it on the chin. A final mission to service the Hubble was scrapped also with $250 million worth of Hubble hardware sitting on the ground. The Hubble mission has now been restored but the point is, DSCVR was not the only mission drastically affected by the Columbia disaster.

If DSCVR at long last gets off the ground, fine. If it doesn’t, I’m not terribly worried (nor do I think NASA is) as many more climate related missions have gone ahead and are going ahead.

You seem to know what happened to the Hubble mission. Is more information available about that? Was the White House involved? Were FOIA requests continuously neglected?

It took significant scientific, political and public pressure to get NASA to reconsider its Hubble servicing mission. Many signed, including me, the worldwide petition to reconsider the Hubble mission.

My point is, it is not simply the DSCVR mission that was adversely affected by the aftereffects of the Columbia disaster. It took sustained pressure on several fronts to get NASA to reconsider. And now DSCVR may be benefitting from its own campaign by scientists and the interested public.

I am sure the White House was involved in the decision to restore the Hubble servicing mission, but at exactly what level I do not know.

Paul S points out another possibility. I certainly hadn’t thought of this one. It sounds like it would be worth checking out.

There may even be reasons, still political but not unethical, for political advisors within the White House to just not want to talk about climate change-related issues unless they are legally bound to do so. It’s likely that overnight opinion polls take a hit every time someone from this WH says anything about climate change.

Still, the right place for this satellite is in space, not a warehouse somewhere.