accurate climate predictions on both the short (monthly) and long (annual to decadal) timescales is anticipated to increase. Benefits to U.S. agriculture by altering planting decisions based on improved El Niño forecasts have been estimated at $265 million to $300 million annually, throughout El Niño, normal, and La Niña years. Costs associated with errors in predicting the onset of regional climate changes could thus easily amount to hundreds of millions of dollars per year.11

Education for Scientific Literacy

Astronomy is a compelling subject, as shown by public attendance at planetariums, the number of astronomy and space magazines, and the very large number of astronomy clubs and amateur astronomers. This interest serves as an effective basis for using astronomy in the curriculum for kindergarten through grade 12 to improve the scientific literacy of tomorrow’s leaders and managers. Although at first glance they would seem too esoteric for such a purpose, radio telescopes have in fact proven very effective in education. For example, high school students across the United States are able to carry out research programs with the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope, based at NASA’s tracking complex in California. Australia and Spain are instituting similar programs at their NASA tracking complexes.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Haystack Observatory staff has developed a Small Radio Telescope (SRT) and high school lesson plans as a tool to introduce students to the basics of radio astronomy. The SRT is now available as a kit, and more than 85 SRTs are now in use around the world.

Earth remote sensing data are made publicly available at low cost or no cost via the Internet for use in schools. Landsat imagery and Shuttle Radar Topography Mission digital elevation models, as well as weather data and much data from the Earth Observing Satellite system, and in fact much of NASA’s and NOAA’s remote sensing data, are provided free of charge to U.S. researchers.12 Within the framework of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), Earth remote sensing data will become readily and rapidly distributed on a worldwide basis to support a wide range of activities by scores of countries within a number of societal benefit areas. The enhanced degree of awareness of Earth as a system stemming from such data use will provide a myriad of educational benefits to all students around the globe.

University radio observatories provide hands-on training for the next generation of engineers and instrument builders as well as astronomers. The Angel Ramos Foundation Visitor and Educational Facility at the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC) in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, receives 120,000 visitors per year and conducts a number of training programs for students and teachers alike. Likewise, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory has visitor centers at the Very Large Array headquarters in Socorro, New Mexico, and at the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia. The Green Bank NRAO facility hosts many educational programs. Research at NRAO and NAIC has provided data for many Ph.D.’s granted in the past 20 years, and both NRAO and NAIC run summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs. The National Science Foundation also sponsors REU programs at Haystack Observatory and Cornell University.


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Economic Statistics for NOAA, 5th Ed., April 2006.


National Research Council, Utilization of Operational Environmental Satellite Data: Ensuring Readiness for 2010 and Beyond, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2004; and National Research Council, Satellite Observations of the Earth’s Environment: Accelerating the Transition of Research to Operations, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2003.

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