The 2005 interim report of the Earth science and applications from space decadal survey discussed the importance of the U.S. civilian Earth observing system of environmental satellites and warned, “Today, this system of environmental satellites is at risk of collapse.”1 It went on to list a number of canceled, descoped, or delayed Earth observation missions. The 2007 decadal survey report warned in its preface that at the time of the report’s release, this foundation was continuing to deteriorate because of descopes in the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) and Geostationary Orbit Environmental Satellite-R Series programs and possible delay of the flagship Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission.2 In the time since the 2007 report’s release, the anticipated program has eroded further because of significant budget shortfalls, the loss of two missions due to launch vehicle failures, changes in direction from the executive branch and Congress, and cost overruns on pre-decadal survey missions still in development.
Despite these challenges, NASA has continued to make substantial technical progress on the missions that were already in development at the time of the survey’s release, including the successful launches of the Ocean Surface Topography mission in 2008 and Aquarius and the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) in 2011. NASA has also effectively implemented decadal survey recommendations related to its new Earth Venture line of solicitations, the suborbital program, and the applied sciences program. Still, there is room for improvement. Improved coordination across missions and between disciplines is key to weathering this near-perfect storm of a decline in resources, increase in demands, and loss of heritage assets. Using realistic budget projections, the Earth science community cannot afford an all-encompassing program to enhance every aspect of Earth system science, nor can it afford collapse of the mission queue to save just a handful of missions. To this end, the committee reiterates the 2007 survey’s call for a balanced set of capable Earth science missions rather than just a few missions that strive for perfection in limited disciplines.3
1National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: Urgent Needs and Opportunities to Serve the Nation, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2005, p. 2.
2National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
3National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, 2007.