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US Earth-observing satellites in jeopardy, AAAS Board cautions

As U.S. policy-makers prepare for hearings later this week on space-science and climate-change research, the world’s largest general science society today warned that budget cuts are threatening U.S. satellites essential for weather forecasting, hurricane warning, studies of global climate change and more.

Cutbacks and reallocations within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are "already causing harm" to Earth-observing satellites, and "will become rapidly worse unless the Congress and the Administration take prompt action to reverse the recent trends," the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) cautioned.

"The network of satellites upon which the United States and the world have relied for indispensable observations of Earth from space is in jeopardy," the AAAS Board of Directors concluded in a consensus statement. (See "Declines will result in major gaps in the continuity and quality of the data gathered about the Earth from space."

This week’s AAAS Board statement reaffirms an earlier, 400-page analysis by the National Research Council, which concluded that U.S. global observations are "at great risk," while the next generation of U.S. Earth-observing satellites are "generally less capable" than their current counterparts.

AAAS joined the NRC in calling for the restoration of key NOAA satellites; acceleration of NASA’s current launch schedule to "shrink data gaps;" and support for the 17 highest-priority new Earth-observation missions for the 2010-2020 time period. Achieving these goals will require returning NASA’s Earth-science budget to its 1998-2000 level and stabilizing the budget of NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service at a level only slightly higher than the 2007 amount, adjusted for inflation, AAAS said.

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology plans a hearing Wednesday, 2 May on NASA’s Space Science Programs and Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Issues. The hearing will take place from 10:00 am until Noon in the Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2318.

Another hearing the U.S. global climate-change research program will take place Thursday, 3 May, from 2:00 pm until 4:00 pm, in the same location.

In addition, AAAS will release its much-awaited annual analysis of proposed 2008 federal research funding, during the 32nd Annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy, Thursday and Friday this week. For details, see

Kei Koizumi, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program, said the President’s proposed 2008 budget calls for large increases to three physical sciences agencies relevant to the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) and additional support for weapons and spacecraft -- but less funding for all other research. "Many agencies such as the National Institutes of Health would see their R&D funding fall," said Koizumi. "In real terms, the federal research investment would fall for the fourth year in a row after peaking in 2004."

Lonnie Shekhtman | EurekAlert!
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