NASA reels from climate science setbacks

Mar 06, 2011 by Kerry Sheridan
This undated NASA file image shows the Glory spacecraft. A pair of costly satellite crashes have dealt a major blow to NASA's earth science efforts just as the US space agency faces scrutiny from Congress over whether climate science should be part of its focus at all.

A pair of costly satellite crashes have dealt a major blow to NASA's earth science efforts just as the US space agency faces scrutiny from Congress over whether climate science should be part of its focus at all.

The $424 million Glory satellite to monitor and the sun's power plunged into the Pacific on Friday shortly after launch, just two years after a similar satellite to study carbon dioxide in the atmosphere met the same fate.

"The loss of the Glory satellite is a tragedy for ," said Bruce Wielicki, senior scientist for earth science at NASA's Langley Research Center.

"The time to heal a lost mission is typically three to seven years depending on budgets and how many spare parts remain from the last instrument builds," he said.

Both NASA and the rocket maker, Orbital Sciences Corp, have launched investigations into why the protective nose-cone, or fairing, failed to separate, weighing down the satellite and preventing it from reaching orbit.

"It's not like we have spares on the shelf," said Glory program scientist Hal Maring, adding that the advanced instruments on board would have offered detailed data in an area that desperately needs more study.

"The effect of aerosols is the place where our uncertainty is greatest in terms of being able to understand and predict climate," he told AFP.

Perhaps that's why the loss hurts most, because Glory "was directed very specifically at the place where our knowledge was weakest," he said.

Glory's crash came just hours after NASA administrator Charles Bolden finished two days of testimony before lawmakers, defending the US space agency's plans for the future of human spaceflight and climate science.

President Barack Obama's 2012 budget, which has yet to be approved by Congress, calls for a 25 percent increase in NASA's budget for earth science, bringing the total to $1.8 billion of NASA's overall $18.7 billion budget.

But some Republicans, who hold a majority in the House of Representatives, want to see NASA give up climate science so it can focus on returning astronauts to space once the 30-year-old shuttle program ends later this year.

"NASA's primary purpose is human space exploration and directing NASA funds to study global warming undermines our ability to maintain our competitive edge in human space flight," said Republican Congressman Bill Posey last month.

Earth science has been a distinct mission of NASA ever since Congress formed the agency with the 1958 Space Act, setting its first objective as "the expansion of human knowledge of the earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space."

Further revisions of the Space Act in 1976 gave NASA "authority to carry out stratospheric ozone research," and a 1984 change broadened NASA's earth science authority from the stratosphere to "the expansion of human knowledge of the Earth."

But budget squeezes have crippled NASA's efforts since the 1990s, when NASA first set out to create a global Earth observing system and budget deficits forced engineers to scale back to one third of their original plan, according to Wielicki.

"What we have now are pieces of that system that have lived well beyond their design life," he said.

"Space missions are expensive by nature, risky by nature, and our nation has decided not to spend the kind of resources it would take for a more robust set of climate research observations."

Rocket launch failures happen in other countries too. In December, three Russian satellites crashed into the Pacific Ocean after their rocket couldn't reach orbit.

The same month, an Indian rocket on a mission to launch a communications satellite exploded less than a minute after takeoff.

But such setbacks should not deter scientists' efforts to gain knowledge of climate through space observations, said astrophysicist Ray Weymann.

"There is no getting around the fact that the type of data Glory was to get must really be done from space," Weymann said.

"So, if not NASA, who else? NOAA (the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration) really has not been the agency in charge of satellite climate science, though of course they are involved in using the data.

"It seems to me that either the US, which is by far the leader in these efforts, cedes this critical science to ESA (European Space Agency), Japan and others, or continues in this effort and corrects what needs correcting."

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Doug_Huffman
2.5 / 5 (8) Mar 06, 2011
If it ain't falsifiable then it ain't science.

Ad hoc after the fact additional hypotheses, heaped like Sorites Paradox, are moot attempts at validation/verification by obscuration and obfuscation.
jmlvu
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 06, 2011
I wouldn't be surprized to find that a right winger in NASA had managed sabatoge on under fund some part of the mission.

Simon_Jester
2.3 / 5 (6) Mar 06, 2011
Isn't interesting that two satellites that may prove or disprove the "global warming/climate change" concept, both don't make it to orbit. Sounds like someone is concerned with what might be found. Looking at recent history, I'd have to say that it was part of the pseudo-science climate change crowd. Possibly even an order from the WH.
dogbert
2.5 / 5 (8) Mar 06, 2011
NASA should be better than a political tool of the AGW socialist movement.

Defund AGW support and push space exploration.
Vendicar_Decarian
3.3 / 5 (7) Mar 06, 2011
"If it ain't falsifiable then it ain't science." - Tard of Tards

If Global temperatures had dropped over the last 30 years then you would have your falsification.

They have risen. Exactly as science tells us they must.
Vendicar_Decarian
3 / 5 (4) Mar 06, 2011
I wouldn't be surprized to find that a right winger in NASA had managed sabatoge on under fund some part of the mission." - Imluv

Yes... That is the most likely explanation. But not a NASA person, since NASA didn't design or assemble the rocket.

Republicans of course will now refuse to fund a replacement.
ereneon
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 06, 2011
I agree, NASA should not do climate research. It seems kind of tacked onto their real mission. They should either start a new agency for it, or put it with NSF or EPA, where it would make more sense.

Sabotage is possible, but I think incompetence and laziness are much more likely causes. Maybe they should build in a backup parachute so that if a satellite fails to reach orbit, then it can gracefully come back down rather than slamming into the ocean at 400 mph. You'd think someone would have thought of that with 400 million on the line...
Vendicar_Decarian
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 06, 2011
"I agree, NASA should not do climate research." - doofus

Doing so has always been part of NASA's charter.

Educate yourself......

"Sabotage is possible, but I think incompetence and laziness are much more likely causes" - Doofus

3 out of the 3 failures have been climate satellites.
Egleton
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 06, 2011
There are a lot of people on this site who are mouth pieces for the fossil fuel industry.

There is no stopping them, they do it for the money.

deatopmg
2.8 / 5 (6) Mar 06, 2011
There are also a lot of people responding here who's income is totally dependent on grants to study long term climate changes. The more alarmism the more grants! Neither the fossil fuel (energy) industry types nor those receiving payments to "study" global warming should be allowed a horse in this race. Both are EQUALLY suspect since the bottom line for both is M-O-N-E-Y!
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (5) Mar 06, 2011
There are also a lot of people responding here who's income is totally dependent on grants to study long term climate changes. The more alarmism the more grants! Neither the fossil fuel (energy) industry types nor those receiving payments to "study" global warming should be allowed a horse in this race. Both are EQUALLY suspect since the bottom line for both is M-O-N-E-Y!
Thats a little shortsighted. Whether or not AGW is real, the technologies being explored right now in response to it are vital to the future of the species. They will enable people to colonize space in a big way.

Humans are a crisis-driven species. This tech would not be developed unless the AGW crisis existed to force the issue. People who think that money is the Prime Motivator also fail to consider the relative value of money. If the authority which legitimizes it collapses, money becomes worthless. Rich people suddenly become poor. There are far more important things worth preserving than money.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (2) Mar 06, 2011
The People who would sabotage this sort of thing might well be doing it to preserve the efficacy of this current crisis state. And They would not be doing it for money but for the continuation of overall Stability and the Progress which this makes possible.

For in this perilous universe, stagnation means eventual destruction, and the species is not safe until it can disperse itself within the solar system.
ereneon
5 / 5 (3) Mar 06, 2011
"Doing so has always been part of NASA's charter.
...
3 out of the 3 failures have been climate satellites.


Perhaps since all 3 missions used similar hardware, there is a bug in the hardware that they have been too incompetent to fix. If I recall, the failure of the last mission was quite similar to this one. That is much more likely to be incompetence than sabotage.

I partially retract my statement about NASA. After looking at the charter, it does say "The expansion of human knowledge of the Earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space;" This seems to fit into that category. You learn something new every day! I still think it would be better if NASA were not doing this kind of work though (though it is important work and someone should do it). NASA is so bloated and going in so many directions, and I think that is part of the cause of many of its problems.
Foolish1
not rated yet Mar 06, 2011
I'd hate to rain on the anti global warming conspiracy parade but presence of aerosols increase reflected energy from the sun *cooling* earth.

Parsec
5 / 5 (3) Mar 07, 2011
If it ain't falsifiable then it ain't science.

Ad hoc after the fact additional hypotheses, heaped like Sorites Paradox, are moot attempts at validation/verification by obscuration and obfuscation.


Science is a 3 step process:

1) Hypothesis
2) form an experiment to test the hypothesis
3) go back to step 1, with modifications from step 2 to generate a new hypothesis.

Climate change is the ultimate falsifiable hypothesis. Is it warming or not?
bg1
4 / 5 (1) Mar 12, 2011
"Republicans, who hold a majority in the House of Representatives, want to see NASA give up climate science so" they can keep getting huge 'donations' from the oil, gas and coal industries.

Besides, what about *sabotage*. I wouldn't put it past these oil industry guys, they've got their plants everywhere important.
ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (4) Mar 12, 2011
Climate change is the ultimate falsifiable hypothesis. Is it warming or not?

How do you measure it?
What is the reference date?
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (2) Mar 13, 2011
Our correspondents mistake a null-hypothesis (from statistics) as a premise that might be validated, as contrasted with Popper's falsifiable hypothesis.

Indeed, he described "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" very well in his use of 'simplicity' as a guide to truth.

The conspiracy of ignorance masquerades as common sense.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) Mar 13, 2011
Why do idiots always attempt to trot out Popper to support poor arguments?

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