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After Plenty Of Starts And Stops, Satellite DSCOVR Starts Its Million-Mile Journey

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An unmanned Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Wednesday. On board is the Deep Space Climate Observatory.
John Raoux, AP
An unmanned Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Wednesday. On board is the Deep Space Climate Observatory.

After a 17-year back story that involved politics and agency peacemaking, the Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, has now begun a million-mile journey that will take it to a place where the gravitational forces between the sun and Earth are balanced.

Riding a SpaceX Falcon rocket, DSCOVR took off at 6:03 p.m. ET from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

This launch is important for SpaceX because it is its first deep-space launch. And it's fascinating because the project emerged from an idea proposed by Al Gore in 1998.

As NPR's Joe Palca explained, Gore had been fascinated by the stunning pictures of Earth from space, and he wondered if the U.S. could launch a satellite that would beam pictures of the Earth on a daily basis.

Politics became involved as the White House shifted parties and the satellite was thrown into a hangar.

But 17 years later — after NOAA and the Air Force found they could use a satellite that measures sun storms — DSCOVR got a new life.

And this afternoon, it's finally in space.

(A post script: With this launch, SpaceX was going to try to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket by trying to land it on a platform in the middle of the ocean. Space X tried and failed to do this back in January. Unfortunately, the company said, they had to call off the attempt today because the waves in the Atlantic are "reaching up to three stories in height.")

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