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NASA to launch 5 Earth science missions to space this year

Five NASA Earth science missions will fly into space this year, with two of them headed for the International Space Station. NASA says the new missions will open more technically advanced remote eyes to monitor the changing planet.

Two of the 2014 Earth science missions will be sent to the International Space Station to measure ocean winds, clouds, and aerosols, marking NASA’s first use of the orbiting laboratory as a 24/7 Earth-observing platform. The new instruments are the first of a series that will observe Earth routinely from the Space Station.

“As NASA prepares for future missions to an asteroid and Mars, we’re focussed on Earth right now,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “With five new missions set to launch in 2014, this really is shaping up to be the year of the Earth, and this focus on our home planet will make a significant difference in people’s lives around the world.”

The first new NASA Earth science mission of 2014 is the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory, a joint international project with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. The GPM Core Observatory is scheduled to launch on February 27 from JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center on a Japanese H-IIA rocket. The spacecraft was built at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. This mission inaugurates an unprecedented international satellite constellation that will produce the first nearly global observations of rainfall and snowfall.
NASA says this new information will help answer questions about Earth’s life-sustaining water cycle, and improve water resource management and weather forecasting.

In July, NASA will launch a mission to advance understanding of carbon dioxide’s role in climate change. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2, a replacement for a mission lost after a 2009 launch vehicle failure, will make precise, global measurements of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that is the largest human-generated contributor to global warming. OCO-2 observations will be used to improve understanding of the natural and human-induced sources of carbon dioxide and how these emissions cycle through Earth’s oceans, land and atmosphere. OCO-2, managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will launch from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base on a Delta II rocket.

With the November launch of NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive mission, scientists will track Earth’s water into one of its last hiding places – the soil. SMAP will map Earth’s soil moisture, and provide precise indications of the soil’s freeze-thaw state to improve understanding of the cycling of water, energy, and carbon.
High-resolution global maps of soil moisture produced from SMAP data will inform water resource management decisions on water availability around the Earth. SMAP data also will aid in predictions of plant growth and agricultural productivity, weather and climate forecasts, and will help monitor floods and droughts. SMAP will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on board a Delta II rocket. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the mission.

“On our home planet Earth, water is an essential requirement for life and for most human activities. We must understand the details of how water moves within and between the atmosphere, the oceans, and the land if we are to predict changes to our climate and the availability of water resources,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington.

“Coupled with data from other ongoing NASA missions that measure sea-surface salinity and that detect changes in underground aquifer levels, with GPM and SMAP we will have unprecedented measurements of our planet’s vital water cycle,” Freilich said.


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