Republicans Scuttle Triana
By Frank Sietzen, Jr.
Washington - May 13, 1999 - U.S.Vice President Al Gore, Jr.'s dream of a satellite permanently aimed at the rotating Earth broadcasting 24 hour a day pictures to the Internet hit the brick wall of politics Thursday as the U.S. House of Representatives voted to kill the project.
The party line vote, 21 to 18, passed an amendment to the three year NASA budget authorization for Fiscal Years 2000 to 2002 that terminated all NASA work on the satellite project, called Triana, and also approved some $2.5 million in program termination costs.
The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla. The vote took place in the House Science Committee. The bill now moves to the House Appropriations Committee and then to the floor for a full House vote.
Congressional critics found that the project, now ballooned from original estimates of under $50 million in cost, had spent more than $40 million during the past 14 months with another $35 million pegged had the program continued.
This was the directed cost of designing and building the satellite. Costs of launching the craft aboard one of NASA's Space Shuttles was not included. The Triana was expected to weight about 8,000 pounds when lofted. A full Shuttle mission, capable of lifting 55,000 pounds into low Earth orbit, cost in the neighborhood of $250 to $500 million.
The project began life in March 1998 when Gore said he dreamt of the project, which he also named Triana. The satellite would broadcast images of the rotating Earth to ground stations, which would process the imagery signals and display them to the Internet almost instantly. Gore immediately informed NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin of the idea.
Goldin's response was to manifest the satellite - in time for a September 2000 Shuttle launch according to some NASA manifest documents, just two months before the U.S. 2000 Presidential Election. Goldin also tasked the National Academy of Sciences in Washington with defining what sensors and equipment the satellite, nicknamed by critics "Gore-Cam", would carry into space.
The actual need for such a craft was never addressed, a fact that critics pointed out before Thursday's vote. In fact, several scientists the world over had questioned whether the imagery that Gore wanted to achieve wasn't now available from weather satellites - whose pictures were routinely posted to the Internet almost hourly.
The other question remained as to how NASA had managed to spend $40 million in unauthorized funds since last March, and on what, since no construction of the satellite had yet begun.
No Congressional hearings had been conducted on the project before Thursday's vote, and the project had been proposed after the FY1999 NASA budget had already been approved -without mention of the Triana project.
But as is the case in political Washington, Triana may yet rise from it's demise to "fly" again. Democratic sycophants of Gore are likely to try and add the project to NASA's budget when the budget bill heads for the floor of the House of Representatives later this spring for a full vote.
Gore supporters in the Senate are also likely to try and add the project to the Senate's NASA bill. And, if so, Republican critics of anything with the VP's name attached are likely to try and kill it again - if in fact it's still around come summer.
Triana At Spacer.Com
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