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Space Science, Triana Face Senate Threat

20 September 1999 7:00 pm
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WASHINGTON, D.C.--Vice President Al Gore's pet spacecraft, Triana, may face opposition on the Senate floor here this week when lawmakers consider the funding bill for NASA and the National Science Foundation. The $75 million project, slated for launch at the end of next year, would provide real-time pictures of Earth as well as ultraviolet images for researchers. But a NASA inspector-general's report released on 10 September severely criticized the program for exceeding its original cost estimate by 50% and suggested the agency gather the data using existing satellites.

Ghassem Asrar, NASA's earth science chief, defends the project as "tremendously valuable," adding that the cost increases stemmed from a decision to add several scientific instruments to the spacecraft. The House voted earlier this month to deny all funding to the project. The Senate Appropriations Committee included money for Triana, but NASA officials say they expect a challenge on the Senate floor. A loss there could spell the end for the program.

The Senate is also expected to approve a $120 million cut in NASA's space science budget request for 2000--for a total budget $43 million below the 1999 budget of $2.1 billion. Although that cut is less drastic than the $240 million reduction proposed by the House earlier this month, it would be enough to force delays in a host of missions, according to NASA space science chief Ed Weiler.

As a whole, NASA fared much better than its space science division: The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved the $13.6 billion requested by the Administration for 2000, but added $100 million to the $1 billion earmarked for aerospace technologies. The need to accommodate that addition plus tens of millions of dollars for pork projects, some of which, such as a field museum on soil ecosystems, are unrelated to space, led legislators to reduce funding for the agency's space science programs, according to agency and White House officials.

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