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Earth Science and Applications from Space: Urgent Needs and Opportunities to Serve the Nation
technology from becoming obsolete. Some of the missions now being planned may not be launched until nearly 10 years after they were selected.
The committee supports continuation of a line of Explorer-class missions directed toward advancing understanding of Earth and developing new technologies and observational capabilities, and urges NASA to:
Increase the frequency of Explorer selection opportunities and accelerate the ESSP-3 missions by providing sufficient funding for at least one launch per year, and
Release an ESSP-4 announcement of opportunity in FY 2005.
Strengthen Research and Analysis Programs
The committee is concerned that a significant reallocation of resources for the research and analysis (R&A)11 programs that sustain the interpretation of Earth science data has occurred either as a result of the removal of the “firewall” that previously existed between flight and science programs or as an unintended consequence of NASA’s shift to full-cost accounting. Because the R&A programs are carried out largely through the nation’s research universities, there will be an immediate and deleterious impact on graduate student, postdoctoral, and faculty research support. The long-term consequence will be a diminished ability to attract and retain students interested in using and developing Earth observations. Taken together, these developments jeopardize U.S. leadership in both Earth science and Earth observations, and they undermine the vitality of the government-university-private sector partnership that has made so many contributions to society.
Strengthen Baseline Climate Observations and Climate Data Records
The nation continues to lack an adequate foundation of climate observations that will lead to a definitive knowledge about how climate is changing and will provide a means to test and systematically improve climate models. NASA and NOAA should enhance their observing systems to ensure that there are long-term, accurate, and unbiased benchmark climate observations.
The committee recommends that NASA, NOAA, and other agencies as appropriate accelerate efforts to create a sustained, robust, integrated observing system that includes at a minimum an essential baseline of climate observations, including atmospheric temperature and water vapor, spectrally resolved Earth radiances, and incident and reflected solar irradiance.
Finally, as recommended in previous National Research Council reports, an expanded set of long-term, accurate climate data records should continue to be produced to monitor climate variability and change. A climate data and information system for NPOESS is needed that will make it possible to assemble relevant observations, remove biases, and distribute and archive the resulting climate data records. A
R&A has customarily supplied funds for enhancing fundamental understanding in a discipline and stimulating the questions from which new scientific investigations flow. R&A studies also enable conversion of raw instrument data into fields of geophysical variables and are an essential component in support of the research required to convert data analyses to trends, processes, and improvements in simulation models. They are likewise necessary for improving calibrations and evaluating the limits of both remote and in situ data. Without adequate R&A, the large and complex task of acquiring, processing, and archiving geophysical data would go for naught. Finally, the next generation of Earth scientists—the graduate students in universities—are often educated by performing research that has originated in R&A efforts. See National Research Council, Earth Observations from Space: History, Promise, and Reality (Executive Summary), National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995.