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Should space priorities be closer to home?

Moon and Earth
The moon passes right across Earth’s disk in an image captured on July 16, 2015, by the DSCOVR satellite from its observation point, a million miles out in space. DSCOVR’s Earth-observing mission had been threatened with cancellation, but NASA’s chief has signaled that it will continue. (NASA / NOAA Photo)

newly released survey from Pew Research Center suggests that Americans still strongly support the space program, 60 years after NASA’s founding, but that they’re more interested in Earth science than exploration beyond Earth orbit.

That’s a turnabout from the broad strokes of White House policy, which has tried to downplay Earth observation and talk up the idea of sending Americans to the moon and Mars.

Despite that dissonance, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine welcomed the findings from Pew Research Center’s survey. When reporters told him that 63 percent said monitoring key parts of Earth’s climate system should be a top priority for NASA, Bridenstine reportedly answered, “Good.”

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Watch a year’s worth of Earth views in 3 minutes

DSCOVR view of Earth
The DSCOVR satellite keeps tabs on Earth from a million miles away. (Credit: NASA GSFC)

It’s been a year since NASA unveiled the first image of Earth’s sunlit side captured by the Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, and to celebrate the occasion, you can see an entire year’s worth of DSCOVR’s view in less than three minutes.

The scientists behind DSCOVR’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera, or EPIC, assembled more than 3,000 images to create this week’s video clip.

“The colors shown are our best estimate of what a human sitting at the location of EPIC would see,” EPIC lead scientist Jay Herman says during the video.

DSCOVR keeps watch on our planet from a gravitationally stable vantage point known as Earth-Sun L1, about a million miles above the planet. The DSCOVR mission started out in 1998 as the brainchild of then-Vice President Al Gore, who loved the idea of having a satellite that could provide a continuous full-disk view of our home planet.

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Planetary Resources focuses on Earth imaging

Image: Planetary Resources clean room
Planetary Resources’ Chris Lewicki and GeekWire’s Alan Boyle mug for the camera behind two Arkyd 6 satellites being tested for flight in Planetary Resources’ clean room. (GeekWire photo by Kevin Lisota)

REDMOND, Wash. – Planetary Resources was founded as an asteroid mining company, but a fresh infusion of $21.1 million in investment puts the emphasis on a space frontier that’s closer to home: Earth observation.

“It leverages everything that we have been working on for the last several years … and it moves us forward in the direction of asteroid prospecting,” Planetary Resources’ president and CEO, Chris Lewicki, said this week during a tour of the company’s Redmond headquarters.

The Series A funding announced today will be used to deploy and operate Planetary Resources’ Earth observation program,known as Ceres. The lead investor is the OS Fund, founded by Los Angeles venture capitalist Bryan Johnson. Other investors include Idea Bulb Ventures, Vast Ventures, Grishin Robotics, Conversion Capital, the Seraph Group, Space Angels Network and Google co-founder Larry Page.

In a statement, Johnson said Ceres will represent “a seismic shift for the new space economy.”

Planetary Resources also announced it would be shutting down what was once a wildly popular Kickstarter project that would have enabled backers to take “space selfie” pictures with the company’s space telescopes. Lewicki said all 17,614 backers would be offered full refunds.

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The moon photobombs Earth!

Moon and Earth
The moon passes across Earth’s disk in a July 16 image captured by the DSCOVR satellite from its observation point, a million miles out in space. The Americas and the Pacific Ocean are visible beneath Earth’s cloud cover. Because the moon was moving while DSCOVR acquired the data for this three-filter image, there appears to be a thin green offset on the right side of the moon’s disk, and red and blue offsets on the left. (Credit: NASA / NOAA)

The Deep Space Climate Observatory, better known as DSCOVR, is designed to provide full-disk, sunlit views of our home planet from a vantage point a million miles away. But every so often, the moon crosses through the frame. Today, NASA released the first amazing photobomb sequence.

The perspective from DSCOVR’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (a.k.a. EPIC), captured on July 16, provides a topsy-turvy view: Here we’re seeing the moon’s far side, which earthbound skywatchers can never observe. And although it looks like a full moon, on Earth the moon was in its totally dark, “new” phase.

This isn’t the first lunar photobombing: NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft caught the moon crossing Earth’s half-lit disk back in 2008. But when DSCOVR goes into full operation next month and starts sending back near-real-time images, we can expect to see a new-moon photobomb roughly twice a year.

Launched in February, DSCOVR is a joint mission of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with the twin objectives of making climate observations and keeping watch for incoming solar storms.

The Earth-watching part of the mission follows through on an idea put forward by Vice President Al Gore back in the 1990s – and the former veep was obviously tickled to see the latest pictures released from NASA’s lockbox:

A version of this item was published August 5, 2015, on GeekWire. For more from Alan Boyle, check out the Cosmic Log Google+ archive.