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Context of '2001: NASA Solar-Powered Aircraft Sets Altitude Record'

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“Pathfinder,” a remote-controlled, solar-powered aircraft, sets an altitude record of 80,000 feet on its 39th consecutive flight in Monrovia, California. The record is for highest altitude achieved by a propeller-driven aircraft. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

The Helios, NASA’s solar-powered aircraft, sets an altitude record for non-rocket powered aircraft at almost 97,000 feet, or 18 miles in the air. The Helios flies mostly in Hawaii. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

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

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

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