The Earth is a dynamic planet whose changes and variations affect our communications, energy, health, food, housing, and transportation infrastructure. Understanding these changes requires a range of observations acquired from a variety of land-, sea-, air-, and space-based platforms. To assist NASA, NOAA, and the USGS develop these tools, the NRC was asked by these agencies to carry out a decadal strategy survey of Earth science and applications from space. In particular, the study is to develop the key scientific questions on which to focus Earth and environmental observations in the period 2005-2015, and a prioritized list of space programs, missions, and supporting activities to address these questions. This interim report outlines a key element of the study the rationale for tying Earth observations to societal need and identifies urgent near-term actions needed to achieve this goal. A final report, due in late 2006, will provide the list of recommended space missions, programs, and supporting.