The excellent answer to What ever happened to the Asteroid Redirect Mission? carries a warning:

There is no way to decouple politics from this; I have tried to be objective.

and it's possible an answer to this question will also need a bit of caution, while DSCOVR provides several kinds of data, the current US administration proposed to specifically de-fund it's Earth-facing camera EPIC several years in a row.

EPIC dates back to the original mission for DSCOVR more than 20 years ago. NASA proposed the mission, then called Triana, at the request of Vice President Al Gore to provide that full view of the Earth. The mission was put on hold early in the administration of President George W. Bush, with the spacecraft put into storage. The Obama administration resurrected the mission under the DSCOVR name and with a new emphasis on space weather monitoring.

The Trump administration proposed terminating EPIC operations. Its NASA budget requests for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 included no funding for EPIC, proposals that did not affect the overall DSCOVR mission, funded by NOAA. Congress rejected those proposals, explicitly including funding for DSCOVR operations in their final appropriations bills. The fiscal year 2020 NASA budget proposal did request $1.7 million for EPIC operations.

Wikipedia's Deep Space Climate Observatory says

In 1999, NASA's Inspector General reported that "the basic concept of the Triana mission was not peer reviewed", and "Triana's added science may not represent the best expenditure of NASA's limited science funding".8 Members of the U.S. Congress asked the National Academy of Sciences whether the project was worthwhile. The resulting report, released March 2000, stated that the mission was "strong and scientifically vital".9

8Assessment of the Triana Mission, G-99-013, Final Report

9NASA's Triana Mission Scientific Evaluation Completed Mission is Declared Strong and Vital

Question: Were there any specific changes to the spacecraft's mission or design that led to the change from "...may not represent the best expenditure of NASA's limited science funding" to "strong and vital"?

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    $\begingroup$ The first comment was based on politics and the second on science? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 23:11
  • $\begingroup$ @honeste_vivere the roomba bot will probably delete this question on March 11 since it's remained unanswered and un up-voted for almost a year. Consider posting a short answer? Also, the bounty will last for one more day, and there's a further 24 hour grace period where it's invisible but still awardable. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 3:34

1 Answer 1


Were there any specific changes to the spacecraft's mission or design that led to the change from "...may not represent the best expenditure of NASA's limited science funding" to "strong and vital"?

The following comes from informal conversations with the project scientist about the history of the mission that I've had over the past ~6 years.

The DSCOVR spacecraft was originally named Triana but was renamed to avoid association with Al Gore for political reasons. It was "moth-balled" for over a decade and when it was finally rejuvinated, both NASA and NOAA spent as little as feasibly possible to get it working and into orbit.

The original mission was scrapped because of a change of office, i.e., G.W. Bush was elected in 2000 and took office in January 2001. Any time a NASA mission/project has a lot of political support from one political party, they are often subject to cancelation or rebranding or significant changes if the opposing party takes office before completion. Whether the mission/project is completely scrapped depends upon a lot of things, but much of it comes down to jobs and the congress people on the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate. The reason it's not entirely an executive decision is that Congress decides the budget and missions are often high enough profile to be explicit line items in the budget.

So regarding the question at hand as to why the evaluation changed. The IG for NASA is a political appointee. While most of the time they do a good job of being apolitical and objective, they are still human and subject to political pressure. The stark difference in evaluation is due to differences in bias between the two evaluators. The IG is responsible for protecting NASA's interests while scientists have a motivation to keep science missions alive.

So the short answer is this was purely a political move. Despite the National Academies report, the Triana mission was canceled and the bus plus instrumentation were "moth-balled" for over a decade as a result.


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