A curious little bone was dropped in our laps last night by a reader, James B. DiGriz (of DragonsWeb Labs or a science fiction character, the Stainless Steel Rat?). Over at Space.com, Leonard David is reporting that the Obama Administration is cutting off scientists’ access to military satellites. The satellites are said to be designed primarily to watch for evidence of nuclear tests. They had also been used by scientists who were studying the impact of meteorites in the Earth’s atmosphere. The military had provided the scientists with data from the satellites, which the scientists had then used to understand what kind of objects from space are striking the Earth.
Barack Obama had promised to end the Bush Administration practice of overclassification and excessive government secrecy. Obama had also promised to improve government relations with science. This decision to cut off scientists’ access to satellites runs counter to both promises. Why is Obama backtracking in this particular instance?
A scientist involved in the research calls the Obama Administration’s decision “baffling”. Let’s think through the baffle. Four possibilities I can think of:
1. There is something about nuclear weapons tests that the government doesn’t want scientists to find out about.
2. There is something hitting the Earth’s atmosphere from outer space, and the government doesn’t want scientists to find out about that.
3. There’s something else visible to the satellites that the government doesn’t want scientists to find out about.
4. The satellites are being retrained to a new mission, to watch something in a way that makes them useless for asteroid impact research. This is a particularly interesting possibility, given the way that Janet Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security has resisted efforts by Congress to exercise oversight on the National Applications Office, an agency that coordinates data from military spy satellites now used to spy on Americans private affairs.