UNH Scientist Urges Reconsideration
Of Earth Observation Plans
Contact: David Sims
Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space
May 19, 2005
DURHAM, N.H. – From the halls of Congress, to the pages of
Science, to a personal pitch to U.S. Senator John E. Sununu
(R-NH), Berrien Moore III, director of the University of New Hampshire’s
Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS), is out
spreading the news: The White House, Congress, and the National
Aeronautic and Space Administration must carefully consider the
direction that has been charted for the future of U.S. space-based
Earth observation efforts.
In the April 29 issue of Science, Moore, a mathematician
and biogeochemist who frequently sits on international scientific
committees and testifies before Congress, joined other senior U.S.
scientists in urging NASA and the Bush Administration to reverse
plans to postpone or cancel several satellites designed to gather
data on the land, sea, and atmosphere as part of the nation’s
Earth observation program.
He made the recommendation in his capacity as co-chair, along with
Richard Anthes, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric
Research in Boulder, CO, of a National Research Council (NRC) panel
that has been studying the issue in order to set the agenda for
space-based Earth observations through 2020. The Science
story followed the April 26 release of that panel’s interim
report, “Earth Science Applications from Space: Urgent Needs
and Applications to Serve the Nation.” The report warns that
the U.S. Earth observation program is at risk, and comes in part
from the recent shift in NASA’s focus toward lunar and Mars
exploration as called for by President Bush.
The day the NRC report was released, Moore testified before the
House Science Committee that the shift in priorities is jeopardizing
U.S. leadership in Earth observation. Moore noted that NASA has
only one major Earth science mission under development. Moore’s
testimony and the release of the interim report occurred in conjunction
with a meeting of NASA and other scientists who were considering
which of half a dozen Earth and space science satellites in operation
should be shut down.
“This is the first time I can remember, in the long history
I've had with NASA, seeing that there is essentially an end”
to space-based Earth observation, Moore told the Congressional committee.
States the NRC report, “At NASA, the vitality of Earth science
and application programs has been placed at substantial risk by
a rapidly shrinking budget that no longer supports already-approved
missions and programs of high scientific and societal relevance.
Opportunities to discover new knowledge about Earth are diminished
as mission after mission is canceled, descoped, or delayed because
of budget cutbacks, which appear to be largely the result of new
obligations to support flight programs that are part of the administration's
vision for space exploration.” The report’s authors
made specific recommendations on missions that should proceed without
UNH, with a long and rich history working on NASA-funded missions,
is very much in the center of the current struggle. UNH consistently
ranks high among educational institutions that receive NASA funding
year to year, due largely to Earth and space science projects conducted
out of EOS. For example, the Space Science Center (SSC) is poised
to deliver two flight instruments built over the past three years
for NASA’s Solar-Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO)
mission, and is ramping up for several mid-range to large NASA missions
for which the university successfully competed.
“Long-planned space science missions are now at risk with
NASA’s shift towards manned exploration. Most of these projects
rely on much more economical robotic missions to address fundamental
science goals, and many have been suspended,” said Roy Torbert,
director of the SSC.
This was part of the message relayed by Moore, Torbert, and others
at UNH when Senator Sununu arrived at EOS recently for a rundown
of UNH’s NASA work and a tour of mission hardware from past
and current projects. As a member of the Committee on Commerce,
Science and Transportation, Sununu has oversight responsibility
for NASA. UNH has both current and upcoming missions that could
be jeopardized by the termination of successful spacecraft such
as Voyager I and Ulysses. The senator commented that the current
NASA exploration initiative should be looked at carefully to avoid
leaving many other important projects unfunded.
“New Hampshire is fortunate to have its two senators focused
on the important scientific issues facing Earth and space science,
and this also means that we at UNH bear a special responsibility
to communicate clearly our concerns about these issues,” said