Two leading members of the House Science Committee have urged the Bush administration to reconsider its decision to bring down a NASA satellite used by scientists and forecasters around the world to study global climate and track tropical storms.
Committee Chairman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Tex.), ranking minority member of the subcommittee on space and aeronautics, sought additional funding to keep NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite aloft instead of allowing it to fall out of orbit and plunge into the ocean next year.
"As a research satellite, it has provided unprecedented insights into the nature of precipitation," Boehlert wrote in a letter late Thursday to White House science adviser John H. Marburger III. "The cost of keeping the satellite functional is minuscule compared to the value it provides."
Lampson asked President Bush in a letter yesterday to "find a few tens of millions of dollars over the next four years to preserve a key means of improving coastal and maritime safety."
"A viable funding arrangement can certainly be developed," the letter said.
The satellite, known by its initials, TRMM, was launched in 1997 as a joint venture between NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and was supposed to spend three years monitoring global climate.
Instead, it has lasted seven years and, with instruments and hardware functioning perfectly, has become an important tool for meteorologists tracking hurricanes and other cyclonic storms.
But with fuel for a controlled de-orbit running out, NASA earlier this year asked Japan and other U.S. user agencies to contribute $28 million to keep TRMM functioning for another two years.
Finding no partners, however, NASA decided to bring the satellite down.