Sunday, May 13, 2012

We're going blind

Literally. We have, over the past five decades, gone from being in awe of space-based instruments to relying on them as an everyday piece of the picture of life.

Except that we're letting them die.
Ninety is the combined number of Earth-observing instruments on NASA and NOAA satellites that are currently monitoring our planet. And that number is about to plunge, according to a National Research Council report released in May 2012. By 2020, there could be less than 20 instruments in orbit, and the total number of missions is expected to fall from 23 to just 6.
I can make book on the fact that you don't care. The technology, the data and the knowledge is, as far as most people are concerned, well outside their daily limits of concern. 

That's not wrong-headed, unless the weather is of concern to you. Or perhaps the fact that your house may be swallowed up by salt water in the next 50 years. Or, maybe, you need to know when a volcano erupts. Forget it. You'll know about it when the ash kills the engines on your trans-Atlantic flight.

If you're so inclined, take a read of this paper. A Midterm Assessment of NASA's Implementation of the Decadal Survey. If not, well, be assured that the authors are issuing a dire warning - without proper space-based instruments we will have no idea of what is happening on our little blue planet and we will have no idea how to deal with changes. (The global warming deniers can go find another place to suck their thumbs). 

Funding, from all countries, for space-based research is drying up because the legislative bodies of those countries see little political value in supporting it. It gets to the bottom line - it's too expensive to know how this planet is doing.

But they do support spying on you. Big time. It's never too expensive to ignore the health of the planet and develop the capability to read your last email instead

So, while the US lets NASA starve, and the Harperites fail to fund space-based research, we go blind while the government gets big new ears. 


Jymn said...

As a progressive supporter of NASA, I've been confronted with shock by conservatives on more than one occasion because space exploration and earth monitoring from space are supposedly conservative interests. Spying aside, space is not, or should not, be a political issue. It's more than that; it's an economic issue. Hopefully, when the US and world economies recover, NASA and the like will again receive adequate funding. Depending on how long that takes, the damage will hopefully be kept to a minimum. Sad thing, with the crisis the earth is experiencing, we need Earth-observing satellites to be funded now more than ever.

kootcoot said...

This degradation of information gathering space tools fits right in with the agenda of governments who believe ideology and not fact should determine policy. The Harper government's attack on StatsCan and the census and the Republican attack on the census there ( - Article:stoopidity is our Strength)
and this lack of regard for space based info gathering tools are all just plays from the same playbook of reich wing fundamentalist idjits!

Sixth Estate said...

Why would we need a satellite to tell us what's happening with the Earth when the Bible already tells us, and for an infinitesimal fraction of the cost?

From an evolutionary perspective, the accuracy or knowledge depth of an ideology is less important than its capacity to reproduce. Currently, evolution is winning.

sunsin said...

Not to speak of the fact that one good solar storm and every satellite up there is space junk. And yes, this has happened before, though fortunately our electronics were so crude at the time that it was only a minor inconvenience. Look up "Solar storm of 1859" in Wikipedia and then imagine what an event of that magnitude would do to us today.

Scotian said...

Horrified and angry? Yes! Shocked and surprised? Alas no. I've always seen space exploration as essential to humanity's long term survival, and in the short to medium turn the data we gain from the technology development and in terms of understanding our planet and what is happening on/in it has value far exceeding the money spent on it. We live in an age though where such data is devalued by those that should know better and ignored by many in the masses who have devolved into beings that care only about their immediate surroundings failing to understand the reality that we are all interconnected and things ripple through those connections all the time. Yet another sad commentary on the world and times we live in...