NASA ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar Satellite Moving Forward

NASA ISRO synthetic aperture radar satellite (Credit: NASA)

A joint collaboration between NASA and ISRO to orbit an advanced synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging satellite is moving forward toward a 2021 launch date as engineers at the two agencies learn to work together effectively, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

“The NISAR project continues to track a risk that process differences between NASA and its development partner, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), could negatively affect cost and schedule, but a recent project assessment concluded that collaboration between the two organizations has been effective,” the GAO report stated.

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GAO: JPL’s SWOT Mission Planning to Launch Ahead of Schedule

SWOT satellite (Credit: NASA JPL)

A Franco-American mission that will conduct a global survey of the Earth’s surface water is moving toward launching a year earlier than planned despite encountering technical challenges and and workforce shortages, according to an assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite “will use its wide-swath radar altimetry technology to take repeated high-resolution measurements of the world’s oceans and freshwater bodies to develop a global survey,” the report stated.

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NASA Canceled Radiation Budget Instrument Due to Budget, Technical Issues

Radiation Budget Instrument (Credit: Harris Corporation)

Excessive cost growth, technical issues and poor contractor performance were the key factors that caused NASA to cancel a scientific instrument that had been set to fly aboard NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System 2 (JPSS-2), according to an assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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GAO_ ICESat-2 Mission Plagued by Laser Failures on Ground

This image shows the ATLAS instrument inside a Goddard cleanroom where the instrument was assembled. (Credits: NASA/D. McCallum)

Problems with lasers have caused a 17-month delay in the launch of a satellite that will measure changes in polar ice-sheet mass and elevation, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

Two lasers designed for use aboard the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) failed during ground testing due to cracked crystal, the report stated. The lasers have been repaired and will be used for the $1 billion mission. Only one laser is needed for mission success; the other one is a backup in case of the failure of the primary laser.

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Trump Administration Terminates NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

The Trump Administration has killed NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), a program that monitored carbon output worldwide, Science reports.

The move jeopardizes plans to verify the national emission cuts agreed to in the Paris climate accords, says Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy in Medford, Massachusetts. “If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement,” she says. Canceling the CMS “is a grave mistake,” she adds.

The White House has mounted a broad attack on climate science, repeatedly proposing cuts to NASA’s earth science budget, including the CMS, and cancellations of climate missions such as the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3). Although Congress fended off the budget and mission cuts, a spending deal signed in March made no mention of the CMS. That allowed the administration’s move to take effect, says Steve Cole, a NASA spokesperson in Washington, D.C. Cole says existing grants will be allowed to finish up, but no new research will be supported.

The agency declined to provide a reason for the cancellation beyond “budget constraints and higher priorities within the science budget.” But the CMS is an obvious target for the Trump administration because of its association with climate treaties and its work to help foreign nations understand their emissions, says Phil Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts. And, unlike the satellites that provide the data, the research line had no private contractor to lobby for it.

Many of the 65 projects supported by the CMS since 2010 focused on understanding the carbon locked up in forests. For example, the U.S. Forest Service has long operated the premier land-based global assessment of forest carbon, but the labor-intensive inventories of soil and timber did not extend to the remote interior of Alaska. With CMS financing, NASA scientists worked with the Forest Service to develop an aircraft-based laser imager to tally up forest carbon stocks. “They’ve now completed an inventory of forest carbon in Alaska at a fraction of the cost,” says George Hurtt, a carbon cycle researcher at the University of Maryland in College Park, who leads the CMS science team.

The program’s cost is $10 million per year.

Bridenstine Squeaks in as NASA Administrator in Party-Line Vote

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

The nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) to serve as the next NASA Administrator was narrowly approved by the U.S. Senate on Thursday afternoon.

The part-line vote was 50-49, with all Republicans voting yes and all the Democrats opposed. Sen. John McCain, who is absent undergoing cancer treatments, did not vote.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who had raised concerns about confirming a politician to run an agency with broad bipartisan support, voted to support the nomination.

Democrats opposed the nomination for several reasons, including Bridenstine’s previous claims that global warming is not occurring. He has since modified his views.

Opposition to Nye’s State of the Union Attendance Grows

Bill Nye (Credit: Montclair Film Festival)

The criticism of the decision by The Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye (the Science Guy) to attend Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address tonight at the invitation of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) has grown to include a petition and an opinion piece in a prominent scientific publication.

An online petition urging Nye to cancel his plans started by ClimateHawkVote had garnered 35,790 signatures, more the 35,000 it was seeking. The petition reads:

President Donald Trump is a bigoted climate denier. So is Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Trump’s embattled nominee for NASA Administrator. So why is Bill Nye “very pleased” to be Bridenstine’s guest at Trump’s first State of the Union address?

Bill, please be the Science Guy, not the Bigoted Climate Denial Guy. Cancel your plans to attend Trump’s State of the Union as Rep. Bridenstine’s guest.

An opinion piece in Scientific American by the organization 500 Women Scientists disagrees with Nye’s claim that he is not endorsing Bridenstine, the Trump Administration or their science policies by attending the annual address.

But by attending the SOTU as Rep. Bridenstine’s guest, Nye has tacitly endorsed those very policies, and put his own personal brand over the interests of the scientific community at large. Rep. Bridenstine is a controversial nominee who refuses to state that climate change is driven by human activity, and even introduced legislation to remove Earth sciences from NASA’s scientific mission. Further, he’s worked to undermine civil rights, including pushing for crackdowns on immigrants, a ban on gay marriage, and abolishing the Department of Education….

The true shame is that Bill Nye remains the popular face of science because he keeps himself in the public eye. To be sure, increasing the visibility of scientists in the popular media is important to strengthening public support for science, but Nye’s TV persona has perpetuated the harmful stereotype that scientists are nerdy, combative white men in lab coats—a stereotype that does not comport with our lived experience as women in STEM. And he continues to wield his power recklessly, even after his recent endeavors in debate and politics have backfired spectacularly.

In 2014, he attempted to debate creationist Ken Ham—against the judgment of evolution experts—which only served to allow Ham to raise the funds needed to build an evangelical theme park that spreads misinformation about human evolution. Similarly, Nye repeatedly agreed to televised debates with non-scientist climate deniers, contributing to the false perception that researchers still disagree about basic climate science. And when Bill Nye went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to “debate” climate change in 2017, his appearance was used to spread misinformation to Fox viewers and fundraise for anti-climate initiatives.

Bridenstine Attempts to Soften Anti-Science Image with The Science Guy

Bill Nye in Washington. (Credit: Planetary Society)

Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye (the Science Guy) is defending his controversial decision to attend President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address this evening as a guest of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), whose nomination to serve as NASA administrator is facing a tough fight in the Senate.

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Decadal Survey Recommends “Robust, Resilient, and Balanced” Earth Science Program


WASHINGTON (National Academies PR) — NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) should implement a coordinated approach for their space-based environmental observations to further advance Earth science and applications for the next decade, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

This approach should be based on key scientific questions in areas such as reducing climate uncertainty, improving weather and air quality forecasts, predicting geological hazards, and understanding sea-level rise. The report also recommends building a robust, resilient, and balanced U.S. program of Earth observations from space that will enable the agencies to strategically advance the science and applications with constrained resources.

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Senate Committee Approves Bridenstine Nomination by Party Line Vote

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to serve as NASA administrator by a party-line vote of 14-13 this morning.

Republicans voted for Bridenstine while Democrats opposed him. The nomination now goes to the full Senate where Republicans hold a 52-48 advantage at a date to be determined.

During a contentious hearing last Wednesday, Democrats had criticized the former fighter pilot turned politician as lacking the scientific and technical expertise to lead the space agency. They also questioned whether the deeply conservative Republican was too partisan to lead NASA. Democrats were critical of his positions on climate change and LGBT rights.

Republicans praised Bridenstine’s service in the House, where he had become one of Congress’s leading policy wonks. The Congressman has the support of a number of space organizations as well as Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

The position of administrator is one of two positions at NASA that require Senate approval. The Trump Administration has yet to nominate a deputy administrator.

Walking on Coals: Bridenstine Dances Around Hot Climate Change Issues

The new NASA global data set combines historical measurements with data from climate simulations using the best available computer models to provide forecasts of how global temperature (shown here) and precipitation might change up to 2100 under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. (Credit: NASA)

NASA Nominee Kinda Sorta Doesn’t Really
Walk Back Position on Global Warming

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Friday, the U.S. government released a long-in-the-making report on climate change that contained a stark assessment of what humans are doing to planet Earth.

“This assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the report states. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

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Lamar Smith Leaving Congress

Lamar Smith

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the controversial chairman of the House Science Committee, has announced that he will not seek election to another two-year term next year.

“At the end of this Congress, I will have completed my six-year term as chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee,” he wrote in an email to supporters. “I have one new grandchild and a second arriving soon! And I hope to find other ways to stay involved in politics.

“With over a year remaining in my term, there is still much to do. There is legislation to enact, dozens of hearings to hold and hundreds of votes to cast,” Smith added.

Smith, who has represented Texas’ 21st District since 1987, has been a leader in the GOP fight against efforts to address global warming, which the majority of Republicans in Congress do not believe is a serious threat. His committee also oversees NASA and other science agencies.

Sen. Patty Murray Opposes Bridenstine Nomination to Run NASA

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

With his confirmation hearing for the post of NASA administrator scheduled for Nov. 1, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is facing opposition from Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) over his opposition to climate change research and “bigoted and hateful statements” he has made about gays, Muslims and women.

“Rep. Bridenstine’s background makes him an extremely concerning choice to lead this critical agency and its 19,000 diverse employees,” Murray wrote in a three-page letter released today.

“Rep. Bridenstine’s denial of climate change and consistent opposition to equal rights for women, immigrants, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals should disqualify him from consideration,” Given his very public statements and positions, its clear Rep. Bridenstine would move us backwards not forwards, and I urge you to vote against his nomination.”

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Florida Scientists Urge Nelson, Rubio to Oppose Bridenstine Nomination

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

A group of more than 40 Florida scientists have signed an open letter to Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) to oppose the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to become NASA administrator.

“The vital work of NASA’s Earth observation systems must continue without political interference,” the letter states. “We find it troubling that Congressman Bridenstine has repeated misinformation in his quest to deny climate change, notably in 2013 when he suggested that global temperatures were not rising….

“We urge you to oppose Jim Bridenstine’s nomination,” the letter adds. “He has no scientific training and little administrative experience and he is not qualified to lead this prestigious agency.”

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Bridenstine’s Climate Change Stance Could Adversely Impact Confirmation Vote

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

Rep. Jim Bridenstine’s nomination to become the next NASA administrator has already run into trouble, with Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) expressing concerns over appointing a politician to lead an agency that has enjoyed broad bipartisan support and has been mostly free of the sharp partisan divisions that have led to gridlock in Congress in recent years.

Some media reports have suggested that Rubio is angry at Bridenstine’s attacks upon him when he ran for president, a charge the Florida senator denies. Bridenstine first backed Ted Cruz’s bid, then switched to Donald Trump after Cruz dropped out of the race.

Or it could be the conservative Oklahoma Republican’s floor speeches, which include one in which he claimed President Barack Obama “dishonesty, incompetence, vengefulness and lack of moral compass lead many to suggest that he is not fit to lead.” His opinion of Vice President Joe Biden was hardly better. “The only problem is that his vice president is equally unfit and even more embarrassing,” Bridenstine said.

Did I mention Bridenstine is a strong Trump supporter? Let that sink in for a moment.

Aside from the concerns about partisanship, there is one other issue that could cause Senators to vote against Bridenstine when his nomination is considered later this year: climate change, also known as global warming.

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