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Context of 'February 2006: NASA Changes Its Mission Statement; Drops Phrase about Protecting Planet Earth'

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President George Bush pledges that the US will launch manned space flights to the moon by 2020, and eventually to Mars. [CNN, 1/11/2004; US President, 1/19/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Columbia University’s Earth Institute issues a press release announcing the publication of a study in Science Express which found that the earth is absorbing more energy from the sun than it is releasing back into space. As a result, the authors conclude, the planet’s energy is “out of balance.” The lead author of the study was NASA scientist James E. Hansen. The Earth Institute press release refers readers to the NASA website for more information and images that it says will be posted after 2:00 p.m. However, NASA’s press release is not issued until the following day (though it bears the April 28 dateline). The text of the NASA release is almost identical to that of the Earth Institute, with the exception of apparent language changes that have the effect of downplaying the significance of Hansen’s conclusions. [Earth Institute, 4/28/2005; NASA, 4/28/2005; Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 35-36 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Officials at NASA headquarters order the agency’s public affairs office to pre-screen all public statements made by James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. This restriction applies to all of his forthcoming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard website, and requests for interviews from journalists. His supervisors are even authorized to stand in for him in interviews with the media. According to Hansen, the agency’s efforts to muzzle him began after a lecture he gave on December 6 in which he said that a US failure to significantly cut emissions could turn the earth into “a different planet.” He had noted in his lecture that businesses could cut emissions using existing technologies, if they wanted to, but that the administration’s and industry’s overriding concern is short term profits. A statement he released on December 15 saying that 2005 was probably the warmest year in 100 years also irked top officials (see December 15, 2005). Officials responded to Hansen’s statements with several warnings that there would be “dire consequences” if he continued. Dean Acosta, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the space agency, denies that NASA was trying to silence Hansen. He claims the restrictions on Hansen applied to all National Aeronautics and Space Administration personnel. All scientists are permitted to discuss scientific findings, he argues, but are not supposed to issue statements on policy. [New York Times, 1/29/2006; National Public Radio, 1/29/2006; Washington Post, 1/29/2006] While top officials have always tried to deter scientists from speaking publicly on policy issues, Hansen, in a later interview with the New York Times, says the Bush administration is engaged in an unprecedented level of interference. “In my thirty-some years of experience in government, I’ve never seen control to the degree that is occurring now,” he says. [New York Times, 1/29/2006]

Entity Tags: James E. Hansen, Dean Acosta, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

James E. Hansen of the NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies posts a statement on the institute’s website saying that 2005 was the warmest year on record. “The highest global surface temperature in more than a century of instrumental data was recorded in the 2005 calendar year in the GISS annual analysis,” it says. The 2005 summation infuriates top NASA officials, who are already annoyed with Hansen because of a December 6 speech he gave criticizing the administration and industry for putting short term profits ahead of efforts to curb greenhouse gases. The officials order Hansen to remove the statement, complaining that it should have been screened by the administration before publication. [Washington Post, 1/29/2006] Additionally, NASA’s public affairs office tells Hansen that there is a “storm of anger at headquarters” over his statement and past remarks (see, e.g., October 26, 2004), and threatens him with “dire consequences.” [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 34 pdf file]

Entity Tags: James E. Hansen, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

NASA quietly terminates the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a program that would have provided scientists with a way to continuously monitor Earth’s energy balance. According to Robert L. Park, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland, data obtained by the observatory would have helped scientists develop a better understanding of global warming. The observatory, named Triana, was the brainchild of former Vice President Al Gore. Its launch, scheduled for 2001, was put on hold by the Bush administration, which ridiculed the project as “Gore’s screen saver.” Gore had suggested that the program could stream video footage of the earth into classrooms so students could watch the earth’s weather systems live from space. NASA says it decided to terminate the project because of “competing priorities.” Launching the satellite would have cost only $100 million. [New York Times, 1/15/2006] In 2004, President Bush announced that one of his administration’s space priorities would be to begin a program that would send manned space flights to the moon by 2020, and eventually to Mars. (see January 11, 2004)

Entity Tags: Robert L. Park, Deep Space Climate Observatory, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

NASA quietly changes its mission statement, from, “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers… as only NASA can,” to, “To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.” NASA spokesman David E. Steitz says the change reflects President Bush’s goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars (see January 11, 2004). Some NASA scientists are angered by the change, which was implemented without consulting the agency’s 19,000 employees or giving them advance notice. According to NASA scientists, the phrase “understand and protect” played an important role in determining the agency’s research priorities. “Without it, these scientists say, there will be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions,” the New York Times reports. Philip B. Russell, a 25-year NASA veteran who is an atmospheric chemist at the Ames Research Center, says, “We refer to the mission statement in all our research proposals that go out for peer review, whenever we have strategy meetings. As civil servants, we’re paid to carry out NASA’s mission. When there was that very easy-to-understand statement that our job is to protect the planet, that made it much easier to justify this kind of work.” [New York Times, 7/22/2006]

Entity Tags: David E. Steitz, Philip B. Russell, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

In its 2007 budget request, NASA proposes canceling or delaying a number of significant earth science programs that scientists consider critical to understanding global climate change. The Plain Dealer reports that these cutbacks are being made “in order to pay for human spaceflight projects.” [Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 5/28/2006; Boston Globe, 6/9/2006] The Bush administration has pledged that the US will launch manned space flights to the moon by 2020, and eventually to Mars. (see January 11, 2004)

Entity Tags: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

The National Academy of Sciences releases a study finding that NASA’s earth science budget has declined 30 percent since 2000. NASA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees a large portion of the government’s climate research, has been plagued with enormous cost overruns and schedule delays with its premier weather and climate mission. The report—two years in the making—warns that half of the scientific instruments on the country’s environmental satellites are expected to cease working by 2010. Among other recommendations, the study suggests that the government increase its spending on researching the potential impacts of climate change such as ice-sheet melting, sea-level changes, and extreme weather events; restore support for efforts to improve NASA’s “capability to observe natural hazards and environmental changes”; and fund other efforts that would improve weather forecasting. Co-chairs Berrien Moore III of the University of New Hampshire and Richard Anthes of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research tell the Washington Post that NASA needs about $500 million a year restored to NASA’s earth science program, “essentially a return to the budgets during the Clinton administration,” the Post notes. [Washington Post, 1/16/2007; National Academy of Science, 1/16/2007]

Entity Tags: National Academy of Sciences, Richard Anthes, Berrien Moore III

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Bill Sammon, the Washington managing editor for Fox News, sends an internal email instructing his journalists and producers to slant their coverage of climate change stories in favor of questioning the validity of climate change claims. Sammon’s order is given during a series of global climate change talks, and less than 15 minutes after Fox News correspondent Wendell Goler told viewers that the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) had announced that 2000-2009 was “on track to be the warmest [decade] on record.” Sammon’s email says in part: “Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data… we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.” The email also comes amidst a steady promotion by the network of the so-called “Climategate” scandal, which hinges on misrepresentations of emails sent between climate scientists and supposedly casts critical doubts on the science behind the claims of climate change and global warming. Ultimately, all independent inquiries will clear the accused scientists of misconduct and manipulation, though these reports will receive less attention from Fox. And, though Sammon portrays his directive as an attempt to be fair and balanced, the “debate” is largely in the media, and fueled by conservative politics and by corporations and investors that would be impacted by regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. No national or international scientific body disputes that global warming is caused by human activities, and it is the consensus view of the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists that greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of the rise in the Earth’s average temperature since the 19th century. Goler had noted during his broadcast that in spite of “Climategate” claims, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) prove that the climate is indeed heating up due to a man-made increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Despite the facts, minutes after Goler’s report, Sammon sends his email to the staffs of Fox News’s “straight” news shows and others, ordering them to report that claims of human-caused climate change are controversial. That evening, news anchor Bret Baier introduces another report by Goler by saying in part that as “Climategate-fueled skeptics continued to impugn global warming science, researchers today issued new and even more dire warnings about the possible effects of a warmer planet.” After Goler’s evening report, Baier tells viewers that “skeptics say the recordkeeping began about the time a cold period was ending in the mid 1800s and what looks like an increase may just be part of a longer cycle,” and runs a clip by American Enterprise Institute scholar Kenneth Green impugning the credibility of climate change science. And a few minutes later, correspondent James Rosen falsely claims that climate scientists “destroyed more than 150 years worth of raw climate data” in order to promote the theory of climate change. [Media Matters, 12/15/2010]
Sammon Previously Manipulated Fox News Reporting - Less than two months ago, Sammon ordered journalists and producers to use the term “government option” instead of “public option” to describe a specific health care proposal by Senate Democrats, as his preferred term had been shown to be less favorable to that proposal (see October 27, 2009 and After).

Entity Tags: Kenneth Green, Bill Sammon, Ben Dimiero, Bret Baier, James Rosen, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fox News, World Meteorological Organization, Wendell Goler, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: Global Warming, Domestic Propaganda

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