Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I have always been a big fan of the US space programme and its ability to deliver on spectacular missions like the Mars Rovers, Cassini, Galileo Stardust and NEAR to name but a few. Not so high profile have been the earth monitoring satellites that have played a significant if not pivotal roll in alerting us the effects of climate change, ozone depletion, deforestation and natural disasters.

Last year President Bush set out his new vision for NASA; a manned space program based around the permanent return to the moon before 2020, and then on to Mars. These are laudable goals, and in my opinion will certainly bring huge technological, cultural and scientific benefits.

However, NASA’s annual funding has only increased a few percent and by no where near enough to achieve the new vision without other programmes having to suffer.

At a time when we need as much reliable and accurate data from ‘our eyes in the sky’ and the current space-based network is due for replacement almost all of the new programmes are being delayed or cancelled.

Even the Deep Space Climate Observatory has been cancelled, a satellite that would have provided valuable information about how clouds, snow cover, airborne dust and other phenomena affect the balance between the amount of sunlight Earth absorbs and the amount of heat energy it emits. It would have been able to observe the entire sunlit surface of the planet constantly. Such observations could greatly enhance scientists' understanding how much the planet has warmed in recent years and help them predict how much warmer it will get in the future.

Surely the US has the resources and the wisdom and the vision to pursue both types of programme. Or is this just another example of the Bush administration’s lack of ability to grasp the seriousness of the environmental crises that looms just a few years ahead of us for the sake of national prestigue on the cheep.

Didn’t a former President once say something along the lines of “we choose to go to the moon, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” come on Mr Bush do the hard but right thing, give us back our eyes.


At 8:25 pm, Blogger Matt Burge said...

I guess the only comfort we have is that Bush will not be around for much longer and maybe a new administration will put the programme(s) you mention back on track. Interestingly I read that even his own Senators and Congressmen are beginning to get fed up with him.

I agree that space technologies are very important to the global monitoring that we need on a whole range of environmental issues. Still, we need to take on board the results.

At 11:41 pm, Blogger Keith Scott said...

Should we be relying on the USA. Cannot the European space programme do these valuable projects?

At 8:49 am, Blogger Pete Smith said...

I expect that the Chinese will only too keen to step into the breach.


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