50 Years of Satellite Observations

by Matt Ball on February 20, 2008

Explorer 1 Satellite At the AAAS annual conference in Boston last week, a session celebrated 50 years of Earth observations from space, with an accompanying book, by the National Research Council. Over the past 50 years, thousands of satellites have taken thousands of observations of our planet, leading to breakthroughs in weather, climate and environmental observations.

“The global view obtained routinely by observations from space is unmatched in its ability to resolve the dynamics and the variability of Earth processes. Ship-based observations, for example, cannot provide the spatial and temporal information to detect the dynamic nature of the ocean. Similarly, aircraft and weather balloon measurements alone cannot resolve the details required to understand the complex dynamics of ozone depletion. Space observations provide detailed quantitative information on many atmospheric, oceanic, hydrologic, cryospheric, and biospheric processes. Because satellite information is gathered at regular intervals, it provides, like a movie, a view of changes over time.”

This retrospective comes at a critical time for the U.S. Earth observation program, as current sensors are reaching their limit and replacement satellites have been delayed by budget and technology limitations. It may be that the U.s. will have to rely on European Space Agency satellites for some time before a replacement is in place.

Read a good overview story about the role that satellites have played on MSNBC.

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