Many of us will be looking up at the sky tonight to see the backdrop of spectacular stars and fireworks in celebration of July Fourth. But what you won’t see is NASA’s high tech fleet of Earth Science satellites orbiting and also looking back at our planet. Most astronauts also agree that the view of Earth from space is as compelling as anything else they’ve ever seen on it! Bill Anders, the Apollo 8 astronaut who took the inspiring Earthrise photograph back in 1968 said, “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”
Almost a half-century later, studying Earth from space has become one of NASA’s most critical missions beyond the exploration of other planets and galaxies. There are currently 16 Earth-observing satellites floating in orbit around our planet! The oldest satellite, the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) was launched in 1997; while the youngest, Landstat 8, was launched in February of 2013. The mission of the fleet is to monitor a wide range of environmental phenomenon concerning weather prediction, fire monitoring, climate change, and the health of vegetation.
NASA administrator and environmentalist Charles Bolden discussed the future of NASA’s Earth science fleet:
“Having looked back at Earth from outer space, I have seen just how fragile our home planet is—and I’m committed to doing everything I can to help protect it…
…Earth Science is a strong priority of the President’s fiscal year 2014 budget request for NASA. The budget supports seven new Earth Science missions on course to launch through 2020 after the launch of four new Earth science missions in 2014—the Global Precipitation Mission (GPM), Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2), Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP), and the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III (SAGE III) instrument to be launched to the International Space Station.
These cover a wide spectrum of Earth observations and join NASA’s seventeen Earth science missions [Editor’s Note: Jason-1 was decommissioned on July 3, 2013; the number is now sixteen] in space observing our planet’s atmosphere and oceans, its climate, weather patterns, and much more. The data we collect helps us understand our planet as a dynamic, unified system.”
You can read more about each of the ongoing 16 missions on the website of NASA’s Earth Observing System or from the mission list on NASA.gov.
Also, here are some captivating pictures of Earth returned from those satellites all the way up in space:
Remembering Hurricane Andrew – GOES Sensor
Tassili n’Ajjer National Park
Fires in Southeastern Australia – Terra
Night-Shining Clouds are Getting Brighter – Aura
images via NASA