within the next year; it is based on the committee’s review and analysis of mission plans that were current as of April 2005. The committee did not attempt to evaluate new missions—a task whose results will be presented in the committee’s final report in late 2006.

As a result of recent mission cancellations, budget-induced delays, and mission descopes, the committee finds the existing Earth observing program to be severely deficient. The near-term recommendations presented below describe the minimum set of actions needed to maintain the health of the NASA scientific and technical programs until more comprehensive community recommendations are made in the committee’s final report. They address deficiencies in the current program at NASA and some of the emerging needs of NOAA and the USGS. The recommendations address issues in six interrelated areas:

  1. Canceled, descoped, or delayed Earth observation missions;

  2. Prospects for the transfer of capabilities from some canceled or descoped NASA missions to NPOESS;

  3. The adequacy of the technological base for future missions;

  4. The status and future prospects of NASA Earth science Explorer-class missions;

  5. The adequacy of research and analysis programs to support future programs; and

  6. Development of baseline climate observations and data records.

Table 3.1 summarizes a number of recent Earth observing missions or mission programs that have been canceled, descoped, or delayed. The instruments on all of these missions have been demonstrated technologically and are ready for near-term launch. All have important societal applications, as discussed below.

TABLE 3.1 Canceled, Descoped, or Delayed Earth Observation Missions



Societal Benefit


Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM)


Reduced vulnerability to floods and droughts; improved capability to manage water resources in arid regions; improved forecasts of hurricanes


Atmospheric Soundings from Geostationary Orbit (GIFTS—Geostationary Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer)

Temperature and water vapor

Protection of life and property through improved weather forecasts and severe storm warnings


Ocean Vector Winds (active scatterometer follow-on to QuikSCAT)

Wind speed and direction near the ocean surface

Improved severe weather warnings to ships at sea; improved crop planning and yields through better predictions of El Niño


Landsat Data Continuity—bridge mission (to fill gap between Landsat-7 and NPOESS)

Land cover

Monitoring of deforestation; identification of mineral resources; tracking of the conversion of agricultural land to other uses



Optical properties of aerosols; solar irradiance

Improved scientific understanding of factors that force climate change


Wide Swath Ocean Altimeter (on the Ocean Surface Topography Mission; OSTM)

Sea level in two dimensions

Monitoring of coastal currents, eddies, and tides, all of which affect fisheries, navigation, and ocean climate

Instrument canceled—descope of an enhanced OSTM

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