Keeping an Eye on Planet Earth
Regarding the May 10 op-ed "The Planet NASA Needs to Explore" by Tony Haymet, Mark Abbott and Jim Luyten:
A number of federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), share NASA's concern for better and continuing information about conditions on Earth.
The authors mentioned the National Academy of Sciences' concern about the aging Landsat series of Earth-observation satellites, which they said "could fail without a clear plan for continuation."
Fortunately, significant advances have been made recently. The USGS and its Landsat Program partner, NASA, are developing the space and ground systems for a Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM/Landsat 8) slated for launch in 2011. Both agencies recognize the potential for a Landsat data gap should either Landsats 5 or 7 fail before a successor satellite is launched. Consequently, alternatives for obtaining similar data from other Earth-observing satellites are under review by a multi-agency team of Landsat users.
In 2006, the president's science adviser, John H. Marburger III, commissioned a team of federal agencies to develop a plan for stable, continuous U.S. operations in land-surface imaging, possibly within a single agency, that would allow NASA to concentrate on its fundamental role of technology development, including the development of tomorrow's land-imaging instruments. The White House report, which takes the United States well beyond the 2011 Landsat mission, is due for release soon.
BARBARA J. RYAN
Associate Director for Geography
U.S. Geological Survey