Space and the Home Planet

National Aeronautics and Space Administration is a space agency with an environmental mission. That mission was implicit in the 1960s and has become ever more explicit subsequently. Formed in 1958, NASA then and now has emphasized manned space flight and missions from Earth. But it has always had Earth as an "applications" emphasis via its satellites. The initial environmental application proved extraordinarily significant—the weather satellite.

The first weather satellite, Tiros, went up in 1960. Quickly, meteorologists saw how it could help the science of weather forecasting. The unprecedented views of advancing weather systems gave them a powerful new tool, an instrument they wanted and needed. One of the most spectacular uses was tracking hurricanes. In 1961, Tiros spotted Hurricane Carla as it approached the Gulf Coast. Its early warning enabled 350,000 people to evacuate. Again and again, weather satellites literally saved lives, especially in 1969, when it alerted the United States to a giant storm, Camille, as it approached the country from afar [1].

This weather satellite was successful not only because of its obvious relevance to meteorology, but also because a policy regime was constructed in the mid-1960s that enabled it to be put to use effectively. NASA was an R&D agency and its role was to develop ever more sophisticated satellites. The Weather Bureau, absorbed into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1970, was a user. There were sharp conflicts between NASA and the Weather Bureau in the 1960s, but that decade ended with an agreement between the two agencies. NASA would develop technology. As satellites became operational, they would pass to the Weather Bureau/NOAA to use. NASA paid for the R&D and the Weather Bureau/NOAA subsequently paid for operations. To the extent that NASA created satellites that were more advanced (and expensive) than NOAA needed, those satellites had an alternative user— the scientific community or possibly the military. With NASA paying the bill, the space agency worked with the atmospheric science community to learn more about the upper atmosphere [2,3].

The weather satellite represented the earliest direct connection between NASA and the Earth environment. Another connection, albeit indirect, were the pictures of Earth from Apollo, which proved to be an inspiration to the environmental movement. Earthrise from the Moon, photographed by Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969, energized the environmental movement and provided a symbol for its first Earth Day in 1970.

Negotiating Essentials

Negotiating Essentials

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