NASA solar weather satellite in trouble

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs." --San Antonio Express-News

DSCOVR, re-purposed by NASA from Al Gore’s Triana Earth-observing satellite to instead monitor solar storm activity, is having serious technical problems.

A US space-weather satellite that is supposed to alert Earth to incoming solar storms has temporarily dropped offline five times in the year since it became operational. Its onboard computer may be experiencing hiccups caused unexpectedly by galactic cosmic rays.

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) went out of action most recently on 11 October. In each case, it unexpectedly entered a ‘safe hold’ in which scientific data stopped flowing and engineers had to scramble to try to recover the spacecraft. In total, DSCOVR’s space-weather forecasting instruments have been offline for more than 42 hours since 28 October 2015, when the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) took the spacecraft over from NASA, which built and launched it. Each outage lasts for only a few hours, and the total downtime amounts to 0.48% of its time in space — well below NOAA’s requirement that the spacecraft operate at least 96% of the time.

They think the outages are being caused by cosmic rays. Because DSCOVR was initially not designed to do the work it is now doing, its problems with cosmic rays are likely related to this change in its goals. Had the money that was used on Gore’s pet project (something that NASA did not really need) been instead used to build DSCOVR (something that NASA did need), we might not be having these problems now.

So that no one misunderstands me, I am not saying that politicians shouldn’t be involved in deciding what missions NASA flies. What I am saying is that politicians should not impose their petty demands on the agency, but use their brains to help the agency do the best job it can, with the resources available. Gore deserves criticism here because he forced NASA to divert needed resources away from necessary projects to build a satellite that NASA didn’t need. The agency eventually did the best it could to turn that lemon into lemonade, but Gore’s interference means they are using lemonade for something that really required something better.


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