Saturday, March 5, 2011

 

BAD WINDS OF CHANGE

At the very height of the 2007 hurricane season the Director of the National Hurricane center based in Miami, Florida was forced out of his job. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina late in the 2005 season, Bill Proenza's mistake had been to publicly criticize the ageing satellite technology the world's foremost tropical storm / hurricane center depends on to predict land falling storms. Between 2004 and 2005, a total of 8 hurricanes and 3 (named) tropical storms had struck or brushed Florida. In fact. 2005 remains the most active hurricane season on record...



Hurricane Center Director Proenza is long gone; but the old technology he complained about almost 4 years ago still remains the only "go to" Earth-watching system in place. There are 13 Earth-observing satellites still in orbit and all of them are passed their "best before" date. Lest I digress: Perhaps in order to avoid Director Proenza's fate, scientists have taken to claiming the orbiting satellites are in "their sunset years."

In addition to ending the storied Space-Shuttle program later this year; years of belt tightening have left NASA's Earth-watching system in sorry shape. And, any money for new environmental satellites will have to survive Washington's budget cutting, the naysayers on global warming, and most recently increasing doubt in the United States about the competency of the space agency which put the first man on the moon more than four decades ago.

For the second time in two years at week's end a rocket glitch sent the latest $425-million weather watching probe to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Early on Friday, the Taurus XL rocket carrying NASA's "Glory" satellite lifted from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California and plummeted to the ocean's floor several minutes later. The same thing happened to another system named "OCO" in late February of 2009.

Back at the time of Bill Proenza's Miami demise in 2007, his concerns were echoed by a panel of the U.S. National Academies of Science which claimed that NASA's climate-monitoring system was at "risk of collapse". It's now feared that these recent back-to-back fiascoes could have serious political repercussions. It is feared that the Tea-Party backed newly elected Republican controlled American Congress and the climate-change skeptics who support them have just been handed more ammunition to question whether this is a good way to spend taxpayer dollars for rockets that fail and for purposes they claim to be suspect.

NASA's bruised ego, record and reputation surely are in desperate need of an image make-over. Perhaps sadly one which requires appealing to the somewhat baser instincts of American society. Among them the vast middle-class which has been crushed by mounting national debt and stagnant employment rates. All of which may just explain the Fox News "exclusive" this weekend claiming that a NASA Scientist, Richard Hoover, says he's uncovered evidence of Alien life on a rare class of meteorites, of which there are a total of nine known to have crashed to Earth.

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