|11 June 1998
Letter from Pat Dasch, Executive Director of the National Space Society, to the Editor of "Space News," a weekly newspaper of the space industry, regarding Vice President Gore's proposed Triana satellite. The letter was printed in the June 22-28, 1998 edition.
|Dear "Space News"
Dr. Johnson's article, "The Unlimited Potential of Triana," described projected benefits of Vice President Gore's proposed, Earth-observing mission while conveniently avoiding the very real limiting factors surrounding its funding, schedule and ultimate purpose.
Clues to these limits lie in the many "could's," "can's," and "probably's" that peppered Dr. Johnson's article. Triana's scientific value is not clear and neither is its educational value. No one can speak in absolutes because there are none for this non-peer reviewed program.
While the National Space Society traditionally supports projects designed to involve our youth in space science, significant questions remain about Triana. Would "sequential, color" images of the Earth rotating s-l-o-w-l-y (which it does from L1 orbit), and with most continents covered by cloud, really be of interest to millions?
Dr. Johnson stated that "It will be up to NASA to provide leadership and involve other federal agencies in the development of a Triana educational strategic plan." But where is NASA to find the resources to undertake this task? What other programs will be cut to fund the project, to develop the curriculum and the materials that are critical to every good educational program? And would it not be better to use scarce educational dollars to develop curricula for space science data that already exists?
Triana's projected cost is $50 million, about equal to the amount of money that NASA currently allocates to the Education portion of its Academic Programs line item. More than one NASA Administrator has questioned how much of the agency's limited resources should be spent on education when its primary goals are research and development.
Triana represents an inappropriate doubling of NASA's educational spending at a time when the agency is raiding the budgets of other critical science and technology programs to pay for cost overruns in the International Space Station. At a time when there are insufficient resources for the Mars Exploration Program, requiring missions to be scaled back and delayed. And at a time when NASA is inadequately funding the development of future space transportation technologies.
It is understandable and laudable that the Vice President wants all Americans to share his enthusiastic wonder for space and the Earth's environment. The program he initiated in 1994 called GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) has been a success. GLOBE is managed jointly by NOAA, NASA and the NSF, and involves the gathering and reporting of weather observations by schools around the world. Wouldn't an expansion of this existing program be a better recipient of Gore's renewed enthusiasm?
Ultimately, the debate about Triana comes down to questions of priorities, timing and politics -- questions that qualify Gore's proposal as truly the "stuff of dreams." In this case, it is all the project should ever be. The time is not right for Triana.