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Advice on global change studies.

Advice on global change studies

In a report released last month, a panel of prominent earth scientists largely gives thumbs up to the Bush administration's research program on global change. But the report also highlights some problem areas that could hamper future efforts to understand and predict global warming, stratospheric ozone depletion and other environmental threats.

In general, the report concludes that the program is heading in the right direction, says panel member D. James Baker Jr. of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

The panel of outside experts, assembled by the National Research Council, focuses many of its recommendations on NASA's proposed Earth Observing System (EOS), a group of satellite-borne instruments designed to monitor Earth's vital signs for 15 years starting in 1998. NASA plans to launch two large orbiting platforms that would hold about a dozen instruments each. Platforms and instruments would be replaced with identical models every five years.

The panelists recommend that NASA rethink its EOS plans. They agree that one of the platforms is necessary because several EOS instruments must observe Earth simultaneously from the same point in orbit. But they suggest that the remaining instruments could fly separately on a sequence of smaller satellites. This might allow NASA to launch some of the instruments sooner than would be possible with one large platform, they say. Moreover, putting these "eggs" in several different "baskets" would safeguard against losing them all in the event of some mishap -- a concern that seems all the more real after NASA's mechanical problems this summer.

The report also stresses that EOS should not take precedence over some smaller but critical instruments planned for launch in the next few years to make important global measurements. "If budgetary constraints arise, it would be more desirable to delay the launch of EOS spacecraft than to forego or diminish the effectiveness of near-term missions," the report states.
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Title Annotation:report by panel of experts
Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 8, 1990
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