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National Research Council Releases Triana Report (5-15-00)

Vice President Al Gore's 1998 proposal to have a constant view of the sunlit portion of the Earth available on the internet spurred the creation of NASA's Triana mission.  NASA reviewed several proposals for the project and chose one drafted by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC-San Diego.  Along with Gore's original ideas, Scripps proposed to monitor several environmental parameters including ozone and aerosol distributions, cloud cover and heights, and vegetation.

Most Recent Action
The congressionally-mandated National Research Council (NRC) report titled On Scientific Aspects of the Triana Mission was released on March 8, 2000.  The panel expressed the opinion that the Triana mission is based on strong science, and that it is in-line with the mission goals of several federal agencies, and several other NRC reports.  According to the report, the Scripps Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) will provide a constant view of the sunlit surface of the Earth from the L1 vantage point, which is located in between the Earth and the sun.  EPIC will also collect several geophysical parameters such as ozone, aerosols, and clouds.  A better record of the spatial and temporal variations of these parameters will contribute the understanding how they interact with the earth's atmosphere to affect climate and the amount of UV radiation that reaches the earth's surface.  The Scripps-National Institute of Standards an Technology Advanced Radiometer (NISTAR) will help to characterize the Earth's radiation budget by collecting albedo data in three ranges of the spectrum.  This data will provide researchers with information about the amount of radiation absorbed into the atmosphere.  The third instrument used in the Triana mission is the Goddard Space Flight Center Plasma-Magnetometer Solar Weather Package (Plasma-Mag).  This package is designed to collect data on solar wind and the interplanetary magnetic field.

The panel acknowledged that the observations that will be made by EPIC and NISTAR would address interdisciplinary efforts to understand the connection between radiation dynamics, chemistry, and climate.  This theme is consistent with many recent NRC reports.  The Plasma-Mag is also consistent with the goals suggested in many NRC reports.  The panel decided that Triana would provide extremely valuable space weather data that could compliment or replace other programs that are currently in place.  While they acknowledge that there are somewhat higher risks involved with Triana because it is an exploratory mission, it has the potential to make very unique and valuable contributions to human knowledge.  While the panel exhibited a generally positive attitude about Triana, it did warn that the short amount of time allowed to test and implement Triana, and the limited funds it has been awarded, could increase the amount of risk associated with the mission.

Previous Action During the 106th Congress
In September of 1999, the Inspector General of NASA released a report stating that NASA "should reassess (and modify if necessary) its current approach to the mission."  Many members of Congress leaped at the chance to possibly end the program, and in October 1999, asked the NRC to conduct an evaluation of the scientific goals of the Triana mission.  Furthermore, they cut funding for the project, which had received around $35 million in the FY 1999 budget, until the NRC report was completed and had given the mission a thumbs up.  The main opposition to the project came from the House GOP, who dubbed it Al Gore's "$75 million screen saver," and felt that its launch was being pushed up to coincide with the 2000 Presidential elections.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by Alison Alcott, AAPG/AGI Geoscience Policy Intern.
Posted May 22, 2000

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