Tag archive for NASA

GOP takes climate change denial to the next level

The GOP's war on science gets worse, writes Elizabeth Kolbert, noting that the House GOP cut $300 million from NASA's budget for earth sciences (including climate) on the childish old theory that ignoring a problem will make it go away.

That same week The New Yorker, for which Kolbert writes, came up with an even wittier version of the same basic argument:


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NASA vs. Ted Cruz: Round One

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has been spoiling for a fight with NASA administrators every since GOP triumphed in the elections last fall. He has taken the helm of the Senate subcommittee that overseas NASA, which flies under the awkward moniker of the Space, Science, and Competiveness Subcommittee. Cruz has made clear when he took over that he wants a "more space, less earth" agency, as recounted by the National Journal. and is pressing that point in hearings. 

With NASA administrator Charles Bolden on the hot seat before the committee, Cruz pounced. 

Cruz pointed to a chart behind him titled "Focus Inward or Focus Outward? Refocusing NASA's Core Priorities" that compared NASA's budget in 2009 with the current request. He said that since 2009, funding for Earth sciences has seen a 41 percent increase, while funding for exploration and space operations, what Cruz "would consider the core function of NASA," has seen a 7.6 percent decrease.

"In my judgment, this does not represent a fair or appropriate allocation of resources, that it is shifting resources away from the core functions of NASA to other functions," Cruz said. "Do you share that assessment?"

BoldenNASA administrator Bolden thoughtfully considered the question, despite objecting to the "chartsmanship," and discussed manned missions to space in NASA plans in the near future. But it's well known that Cruz doesn't accept the reality of climate change. Cruz continued to press for his space agenda, implicitly dismissing NASA's huge and deeply considered investment in satellite technology to better understand the earth and what's happening to it. 

Eventually, it appears, Bolden snapped.  

"We can't go anywhere if the Kennedy Space Center goes underwater and we don't know it—and that's understanding our environment," Bolden said, alluding to the risk that climate change poses to the low-elevation state of Florida. "It is absolutely critical that we understand Earth environment because this is the only place that we have to live."

[well — yeah. Round One to Charles Bolden and NASA]


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NASA vs. NOAA: battle of the winter forecast charts

The headline exaggerates, of course, but doesn't in fact mislead. Here's a graph of a NASA climate model, depicting a forecast of precipitation in the U.S. for the next winter. Colors tell the story. 


In truth, it's a little hard to decode the anomalies chart, but this turns out to be just one of eight climate models forecasts. The trouble is that seven of those eight, as Eric Holthaus mentioned this morning on Twitter, depict little or no rain for the winter three months in California. 

Troubling. Am trying to reserach, verify, discuss for a story. But also striking is this contrast with the NOAA forecast. 



It's a bit different isn't it? At least for SoCal. Much better chance of rain. 


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El Nino — the Lazarus of 2014?

At the last minute for an El Nino this year, a Kelvin wave rises from the data:


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NASA’s $800 million question: Where is the CO2 going?

A week ago tonight, NASA put about a half a billion dollars on a chip fired into space. The mission for the OCO-2 satellite? To find out where the carbon dioxide we emit is coming from, exactly, and where it is going, exactly, and why the uptake varies so enormously from year to year.

It’s one of the biggest questions in climate science.


A week ago tonight, NASA put about a half a billion dollars on a chip fired into space. The mission for the OCO-2 satellite? To find out where the carbon dioxide we emit is coming from, exactly, and where it is going, exactly, and why the uptake varies so enormously from year to year.

It's one of the biggest questions in climate science. 

After a $300 million (or so) launch of a carbon observing satellite failed in 2009, the Obama administration asked Congress for more funding (back in 2010, when such things were possible) and NASA tried again to launch at 2:56 a.m. Wednesday. This cost another $500 million or so, but the scientists have a big question to answer. 

Here's my story about it for the Santa Barbara Independent. Photograph above is a composite from Jeff Sullivan, who generously offers it to share, and explains his process. It's about a four-minute shot. 

Finally, for those interested in natural mysteries, here's the crucial science question. 

In the words of the mission's cience team leader Dave Crisp:

“We’ve been slowly but surely increasing the inputs of carbon dioxide over time into the atmosphere, but it turns out that only about half that carbon dioxide stays there. Half of the carbon dioxide is disappearing somewhere. About a quarter is dissolving into the ocean waters, we know that from our measurements, and the other quarter is going somewhere into the land biosphere. Somewhere – but we don’t know where. Have any of you seen a new rainforest springing into existence anywhere over the last forty years or so?”

Crisp pointed out that levels of the carbon dioxide are at their highest levels in the atmosphere in at least 800,000 years, when temperatures were much warmer around the planet, and sea levels considerably higher. Yet for some reason absorption rates have not been steady.

“Although our inputs of carbon dioxide have been growing slowly and steadily over time, the amount that stays in the atmosphere varies dramatically. Sometimes almost 100% of the carbon dioxide we put in the atmosphere stays there, sometimes almost none. We don’t know why.”

Although the mission is intended to answer scientific questions, the precision and global sweep of the satellite could also encourage policy makers to strike international treaties to control the emissions of carbon dioxide because for the first time it may be possible to verify the exact amounts of carbon dioxide released on the surface. Crisp in a press briefing admitted being concerned by what might happen to levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere if ocean temperatures continue to rise.

“We’re concerned that over time as it warms up, due to climate change, that the ocean will actually hold less carbon dioxide than it does today. If you take a bottle of soda out of the refrigerator, and leave it out on the table for a little while, all the carbon dioxide goes away and it becomes flat. We’re concerned that as the ocean warns up due to climate change, it will actually hold less carbon dioxide than it does today, and that might be a big change.” 

Could this be a bigger story? Seems so to me. Put it in the subjects for further research category. 

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That’s one cool looking rocket: launch of the OSO-2

Wish I could be there:

OCO-2 launch

Twas the night before launch… #OCO2 is ready for its 5:56am ET launch! Watch live: http://t.co/1mKUqiX0S4  — NASA (@NASA) July 2, 2014

Will do my best to cover, as I did once before  – even if it meaning staying up to all hours. 

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NASA: Stellar womb gives birth to monster star


From an ALMA (ESO/NRAJ/NRAO)/NASA press release:
Observations of the dark cloud SDC 335.579-0.292 using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter array (ALMA) have given astronomers the best view yet of a monster star in the process of forming. A stellar womb with over 500 times the mass than the Sun has been found and appears as the yellow blob near the centre of this picture. This is the largest ever seen in the Milky Way — and it is still growing. The embryonic star within is hungrily feeding on the material that is racing inwards. It is expected to give birth to a very brilliant star with up to 100 times the mass of the Sun. This image combines data from ALMA and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.
ALMA is a radio telescope put together by an international consortium and installed on a high plain in Chile. Do I understand how it rendered this image? Not really. But it's worth it for "stellar womb."

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NASA drops another climate satellite in the ocean

Two years ago I observed the launch of a NASA satellite, called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, intended to help scientists understand the wide variation in uptake of carbon from the atmosphere by the earth. I wrote about it for the Santa Barbara Independent.

At an impromptu press conference held after the OCO crashed into the Southern Pacific ocean, launch director Chuck Dovale vowed on NASA TV that the agency would not rest until they had found the cause of the failure, and would not send up another satellite until they knew they had found the solution. 

Well, this weekend NASA launched another climate satellite, Glory, designed to measure aerosols in the atmosphere. The mission was powered by the same kind of Taurux XL rocket as before, and the satellite built by the same corporation, Orbital Services. Once again the launch failed, and once again the failure was traced to explosive bolts designed to open a clamshell snout and release the satellite into orbit.

Veteran journalist Seth Borenstein reported on the "contingency," as the engineers say, once again for the AP, as he did on the last failed launch. 

The Taurus XL rocket carrying NASA's Glory satellite lifted from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and plummeted to the southern Pacific several minutes later. The same thing happened to another climate-monitoring probe in 2009 with the same type of rocket, and engineers thought they had fixed the problem.

"It's more than embarrassing," said Syracuse University public policy professor Henry Lambright. "Something was missed in the first investigation and the work that went on afterward."

The cost? $424 million. 


Borenstein adds:

Scientists are trying to move climate change forecasts from ones that are heavily based on computer models to those that rely on more detailed, real-time satellite-based observations like those that Glory was supposed to make. The satellite's failure makes that harder.

Epic bad luck? Or incompetence at NASA and Orbital?  

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Reasons to love Barack (vol. 9003)

Despite the Obama's inability to nudge this country, far less the world, towards climate sanity, there remain plenty of reasons to love the guy. Here are a couple of examples I've been meaning to post:

In the popular inside account of the 2008 campaign, Game Change, we learn what happened at the crucial meeting on the economy in the fall of 2008, when John McCain canceled a debate appearance to demand a meeting on the economy, and then — at the meeting — failed to act. 

Barack took over.

Joel Achenbach recounts the scene:

Skimming the book, one passage jumped out: The account of White
House meeting of President Bush, Barack Obama, McCain, Nancy Pelosi and
other top officials during the financial crisis of September 2008.
Obama, the authors write, all but ran the meeting, even though McCain
had sought it. McCain said nothing for 45 minutes and then had little
that was helpful to contribute. It's impossible to know who is
channeling the story to the authors, since it's all anonymous, but it
seems to me that Bush was one of the sources (or Rove, Bush's brain?)
and that he gave McCain some payback for all the guff McCain gave him
over the years.

One Republican in the room mused silent, If you closed your eyes and changed everyones' voices, you would have thought Obama was the president of the United States. [p. 388]

… Bush was dumbfounded by McCain's behavior. He'd forced
Bush to hold a meeting that the president saw as pointless — and then
sat there like a bump on a log. Unconstructive, thought Bush. Unclear. Ineffectual. [p. 389]

And in New York, a boy pollster finds the same general reaction to the president in the public at large, despite a tremendous slump in the popularity of Congress and politics in general:

Little boy to dad: Do you like Obama?
Dad: Yes, son, I like Obama.
Boy: You like Obama, mom?
Mom: Yes, I like Obama.
Boy: You like Obama?
Sister: I like Obama.
Boy: Hey, people, you like Obama?
Random people: Yes, we do.

According to a story yesterday on All Things Considered, today the President will deliver a major address about NASA. The administration proposed a new position on rocket development at the agency a few weeks ago, which — all agree, even within the administration — has been poorly explained. 

It's a policy that can be defended, and appears to possibly be a far-sighted approach that could actually be supported by many critics of NASA, but somehow its good points have been lost in translation. 

The solution? The usual one. 

Send the president out to make a speech. Few can resist him, at least in person, it seems… 

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Our galactic neighbor, seen as never before

Science fans and Internet junkies no doubt have been caught glimpses of the latest set of images from NASA's astonishingly far-sighted WISE (Wide Infrared Survey Explorer) mission. 

Here's my personal fave: our closest galactic neighbor, Andromeda. Although about 2.5 million light years from our sun, this galaxy is actually bigger than the Milky Way, experts say. This is a reconstruction for our eyes from infrared data, with mature stars in blue, and young stars in red and yellow. 

NASA was so smart — is so smart — to put its chips on unmanned missions and high technology. Sending men into orbit around the earth or even to the moon to show we can do it is all but pointless these days. 

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