Feb 07, 2015 09:02 PM EST
Seventeen years after the thought came to his mind, former Vice President of the United States Al Gore is finally getting his wish. This evening, Saturday Feb. 7 at 6:10pm, a 1,250-pound satellite nicknamed "GoreSat" is going off into space at last.
The satellite, officially named the Deep Space Climate Observatory (Dscovr), will be leaving from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida this evening aboard a Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX. On its way to Lagrangian Point 1, a spot nearly a million miles away in between the Earth and Sun, Dscovr will reach its destination in an estimated 110 days and will begin transmitting data as soon as it arrives. The primary objective of the mission is to gather information about oncoming solar storms, bursts of high-energy particles from the sun, and warn power companies here on Earth before the electrical currents arrive. While the particles are often innocuous, large solar storms are capable of inducing electrical currents that can overwhelm power grids, potentially even causing continent-wide blackouts around the world.
"What it's doing is ensuring we have that measurement" solar physicist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Douglas A. Biesecker says. "It's such a critical measure for us to make."
Originally conceived in February 1998, after a long sleepless night, Gore named the project "Triana" and believed that placing high-quality camera in space would prove to be an invaluable resource of knowledge about the Earth. Inspired by the "Blue Marble" photograph taken by Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972, Gore hoped that the orbital view of the Earth may again reveal a new perspective of our very own planet.
"It's been 43 years since anyone has been far enough out in space to take such a photograph" Gore says. "That's when I began thinking about how we could get others that would be equally inspiring."
"It's been a long wait" Gore says. And though the project has taken an incredible new direction, it has been a project met with much controversy, as well.
Congressional Republicans mocked the project, attributing it the nickname "GoreSat", and claimed it as a significant waste of money. In addition, a scathing 1999 report from NASA's inspector general pointed towards the unnecessary nature of the project to put it down a few pegs in the national spotlight. However, when the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the project's mission warranted the investment, the spacecraft was built for $100 million, cheaper and faster than the traditional NASA mission.
When the mission arrives late this May, Dscovr will begin tracking solar storms, in addition to giving researchers a new vantage point on the Earth. Capable of taking measurements as fast as once a second, in stead of once a minute as other solar satellites do, Dscovr will enable solar weather forecasters to anticipate the onset of major storms that could prevent drastic effects on Earth.
"It's not a small thing to have inspiration" Gore says. "It's not a small thing to see what is at stake."
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