Monday, August 11, 2014

Article: America's Weather-Tracking Satellites Are in Trouble
[The] polar-orbiting satellites, a primary and its backup, are the ones in crisis. The primary satellite—a short-term pathfinder built to test emerging technologies—was never really intended for use. Its backup isn't much better: an aging satellite with failing sensors that passed its predicted life expectancy last year. We would send up a replacement now, but it's still being built. When it is ready, should it survive launch, it could take until as late as 2018 to transmit usable data.
"If we can send someone to the moon, why can't we...." That is a well-known cliche. But NASA and NOAA actually cannot any longer "send someone to the moon."

NASA sent someone to the moon because there was the money, the vision, and the people available to carry it out. We went from a proposal by President Kennedy to launching Gemini space craft (though not the moon mission itself) in less time that it is going to take to complete and send up an already planned weather satellite.
For most of the 1970s and '80s a partnership between NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ensured that we always had two fully operational birds flying, with a backup in the barn. It was, says James Gleason, senior NASA scientist, a golden age. That all changed in 1994, when President Clinton tried to cut costs by combining the NOAA and Department of Defense weather-satellite programs. The marriage was doomed from the start. Both organizations came with top-heavy bureaucracies and their own specific needs. Together they formed a dysfunctional agency defined by budget overruns, infighting, and passive– aggressive stalemates. In all the turmoil, work on any new satellites slowed to a crawl, and any surplus dried up. By the time President Obama separated the two organizations in 2010, NOAA had to scramble to pull together a new program. As a stopgap, it sent up the only option left, our current satellite—that demonstration model, with a life span of only three to five years.
Sigh. Good intentions, trying to cut costs by cutting bureaucracy and doubling-up on missions. It could have worked, if someone had gone through and pruned the new agency of excess personnel. When a business acquires a new company, they will often fire a number of employees. But that is hard to do in the government.

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