Daniel S. Goldin
address as prepared for delivery
American Geophysical Union
December 6, 1998
A View, A Vision, An Imperative
It is a great time at NASA.
Its our 40th anniversary and were still basking in the glow of John
Glenns return to space and the success of STS-95.
As we speak, the astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour are preparing
for the historic space walks they will conduct while connecting the first
two pieces of the International Space Station.
On December 10th, we launch the Mars Climate Orbiter, our third mission to
the Red Planet in as many years.
We are also approaching another anniversary. Later this month marks the 30th
anniversary of Apollo 8 . . . our first human lunar orbit mission.
While noting this last milestone might seem a bit esoteric to some . . . the
images that came out of that mission certainly are not.
In fact, I wouldnt be surprised if "Earthrise" -- that awe-inspiring
picture of the Earth appearing past the Moons horizon -- was what inspired
some of you to embark in the fields that are now your lifes work.
That picture and others like it really go to why I am here . . . why NASA
does what it does.
Simply put . . . NASA got into the Earth science business because we could
bring something unique to the table: the ability to obtain the global view
NASA could provide data on a broad range of spatial, temporal and spectral
scales . . . so we launched the first weather satellites (TIROS) . . . then
the first land surface imager (Landsat) . . . the first ozone monitor (TOMS)
. . . and made the first satellite-based estimates of the Earths radiation
We were on our way.
The view . . . led to a vision -- the vision that it is possible to
understand the Earth as an integrated system of land, oceans, ice,
atmosphere and life. And so NASA, with the help of you and other scientists
around the world, pioneered the interdisciplinary field of Earth System
We wanted to study the key spheres of interactions among these five Earth
system components, so we launched a series of satellites over the past
Weve studied the upper atmosphere (UARS) . . . and ocean circulation
(TOPEX/Poseidon) . . . and ocean color (SeaWiFS) . . . and the physics of
the atmosphere (TRMM).
And soon we will launch the first Earth Observing System (EOS) missions to
begin an era of long term, synoptic measurements of the most important Earth
system interactions, such as the atmosphere-biosphere and atmosphere-oceans.
With your help and dedication, we are getting some outstanding science
results from these missions.
We have an estimate of the radiation budget of the Earth, though it needs
We are monitoring total ozone concentrations and its annual cycle of polar
ozone depletion and replenishment, and now understand the chemistry of human
activities in that cycle.
And, one of the biggest accomplishments of recent years . . . we have a
handle on the mechanics of the El Niño / La Niña a phenomenon, and we can
observe its waxing and waning. Again, more work is required before we have a
reliable prediction capability . . . but we are making incredible progress.
A sign of that progress is this: On behalf of scientists at the Center for
Space Research at the University of Texas at Austin, led by Dr. Steven Nerem
. . . and on behalf of the entire NASA Team . . .
I am proud to announce . . . that thanks to data supplied by TOPEX/Poseidon
. . . we now believe that the 1997-1998 El Niño may have been a major factor
in the global sea level rising almost a full inch -- eight-tenths of an inch
-- before returning to its normal levels.
These kind of findings are the very important first steps in understanding
the variations caused by climate change . . . and I congratulate the
scientists who have worked so hard.
Clearly, these and all of the other science results have the potential for
tremendous benefit to society. That is why the view became a vision . . .
and the vision is now an imperative.
Earth science from space is not a curiosity or a luxury or a pastime -- it
is a job that has to be done. Governments, industries and citizens need the
information that Earth scientists provide.
And if we in the Earth science community are not thoughtful and deliberate
in our actions . . . the worlds need for answers will grow faster than our
ability to provide them. The issues and needs are here today; the slower we
go in understanding mechanics of global change, the larger will be the
ecological and economic impacts of our actions.
At NASA and in the scientific community, our job is to provide the hard,
objective information needed by the policy makers and industry to structure
So tonight, I want to talk about where we are and where we need to be going
in this enterprise we call Earth system science. And Ill address this in
three elements: science, technology, and operational systems.
Formulating Science Questions that Address Societys Needs
At NASA, we are extremely proud . . . not only because so many of the Earth
science accomplishments were fed by data from NASA satellites and
NASA-sponsored research programs . . . but also because we feel we have
played an important role in getting traditional and stovepiped science
disciplines to work together on interdisciplinary problems.
We are even seeing Earth System Science curricula emerging at the middle
school, high school, and undergraduate levels.
But we have discovered that this interdisciplinary environment is not yet
self-sustainingnot yet internalized by the science community. That is a
challenge for AGU. That is a challenges for all of us.
On the content of the scientific inquiry itself, we are in the midst of a
sea change in how we think of what must be done. For the past ten years,
culminating in the EOS missions soon to be launched, we have been looking
through a wide-angle lens to get the big picture of the Earth system and the
basic mechanics of its large-scale processes.
These are just the first steps; we plan to do more in the future. We have
started by studying global scale phenomena such as ozone concentrations.
We have moved to address regional scale issues, such as floods and tropical
deforestation. And we are developing the capability to help with local scale
concerns such as suburban land use planning.
But again, we need to do more. Both the growth in our understanding and the
needs of economic & policy decision-makers are leading to the formulation of
more pointed questions:
First -- the big one . . . Is climate changing in ways we can understand and
To answer this, we need to be able to uncover the basic mechanics of
climate, and then distinguish natural from human-induced impacts on the
Then we can build more accurate models of ocean-atmosphere interactions . .
. of cloud formation and radiative balance . . . of chemical transport from
land to atmosphere.
We need to fill in the blanks and reduce the uncertainties in our pictures
of the global carbon cycle . . . the global water cycle . . . and the global
energy cycle. Coupling these models together, we can begin to make useful
predictions of temperature and precipitation patterns.
So NASA is developing lidars and radars to reveal the 3-D structure of the
atmosphere and measure winds in the troposphere -- which would be a major
step forward in weather prediction.
These steps enable us continue to provide ever stronger peer-reviewed
science to policy makers. That way, our society can take appropriate steps
to mitigate the human induced impacts of climate variations and extreme
weather events, such as floods and droughts, on agriculture and commerce in
a responsible manner. Reliable extended weather predictions will further
minimize the economic impacts of these events.
Another question -- Can we understand and predict how terrestrial and marine
ecosystems are changing?
Here, again, we need to be able to distinguish natural from human-induced
changes in biodiversity and other ecosystem characteristics. Uncertainties
in sources and sinks in the carbon and nitrogen cycles must be reduced . . .
in some cases the uncertainties are greater than the current estimates! We
need to understand how variability in temperature and precipitation induces
stresses and how ecosystems respond.
Thats why NASA is preparing to fly an advanced hyperspectral imager, as
well as the next generation of Landsat, first Earth Observing System
satellite, and a vegetation canopy lidar to provide the necessary data.
The answers should allow the nation to improve the management of natural
resources, increase efficiency of food production, and improve marine
commerce and contribute to sustainable development on Earth.
Next -- How is the chemical composition of the atmosphere changing?
We have made tremendous strides in understanding the concentrations and
distributions of ozone and ozone-depleting chemicals in the stratosphere.
Now we need to validate that the new substitutes for the banned
chloroflorocarbons (CFCs) have no adverse impacts themselves. We need to
develop a like understanding of ozone in the troposphere . . . where it has
markedly different consequences for human activity.
Were developing the first instruments capable of mapping the chemical
composition of the troposphere globally, and to measure aerosol distribution
and optical depth.
We need to have this knowledge of both the stratosphere and the troposphere
to inform the environmental policy makers so they can arrive at decisions
that minimize impacts on agricultural and industrial activities.
With sound scientific understanding , we can contribute to a healthy economy
as we adjust human activities to minimize atmospheric impacts.
Last question -- Can we improve our understanding of the processes and
dynamics of the Earths surface and interior, and use this knowledge to
prepare for and respond to natural hazards such as volcanoes and
Practical earthquake prediction may not be possible in the near term, but
reliable risk characterizations are possible for the key, vulnerable regions
of the globe.
The same holds true for volcanic activity. The knowledge we develop in
improving our preparedness for these catastrophic events also provides hope
in the future for a predictive capability.
As a first step, we are flying a topographical mapping radar in 1999 to
provide a baseline digital elevation model of most of the Earths surface,
and are working with industry on a concept for an operational synthetic
aperture radar (SAR) capability.
We need to engage industry in helping us answer these science questions,
both as providers of science data and producers of high value information
products from government satellites.
The clear message from the Administration and Congress is that we need to
identify specific science goals, and target our investments in observing
systems and research to meet them. And we need to apply this knowledge
toward solving practical societal problems.
The National Academy of Sciences is working to document the priority
questions. The Federal government research establishment, in the form of the
US Global Change Research Program, is struggling to position itself to
NASA is in the midst of an intensive effort to define what questions we are
prepared to take on, and what missions, campaigns and research activities
are required to address them. Look for a strategic research plan from us
this Spring that will spell these out.
But we cant do it alone. Help us to formulate the right questions and the
proper priorities. We look forward to hearing what you have to say. We want
your feedback . . . more important . . . we need it.
And as we work together, there is one other thing we must do: assure our
scientific results and technological innovations find their way into the
hands of commercial and public sector users.
NASAs role is as an enabler; we provide technology and scientific
Industry is a partner, especially the producers of "value-added" information
products that make Earth observations useful to decision-makers.
And academia plays a key role, both in expanding our scientific
understanding, and in working with regional governments and businesses to
design new uses for remote sensing data.
Government . . . industry . . . and academia -- when it works right its a
When it works right, remote sensing technologies will support a robust U.S.
remote sensing industry, and help apply remote sensing observations for the
Advancing Earth Observing Technology
Obviously, Answering the science questions will not be easy. The task is
made more challenging still by the requirement to do more with less.
In the space business, the key to doing more with less is the aggressive
pursuit of advanced technology and the application of performance and cost
effective system architectures.
That is why it has been my goal since I came to NASA to bring the
"faster/better/cheaper" philosophy to Earth Science missions. Thanks to the
very talented and very dedicated NASA team, we are making progress.
The original Earth Observing System concept was to acquire 15 years of data
by launching three series of two enormous, multi-instrument spacecraft.
These, what I like to call, Battlestar Galactica satellites needed Titan
4-class launch vehicles to get off the ground and into orbit. The cost from
program start in 1991 through 2000 was to be $17 billion.
$17 billion . . . and its not clear that even with more money this approach
could have been accomplished.
This approach had other fundamental flaws.
First, the 7 or 8 year development cycle was greater than the planned
operating mission lifetime! The next mission had to be under development
before the first mission was launched. There was no time for learning.
The consequence was tragic.
The science was frozen and the circle of participating scientists was
Technology was also frozen; it counted on the replication of satellite and
instrument sets over a 15 year period.
Can you imaging being constrained to work today with the computing power
available to you 10-15 years ago?
Thats effectively what we were asking the scientific community to do by
freezing the design of EOS instruments to the 1988 selections. Loss of a
critical instrument would have called for replacing the entire multi-billion
dollar satellite, thus jeopardizing the fundamental data continuity
requirement it was supposed to fulfill.
This original EOS concept was, in fact, an operational system in a research
and development agency. The mismatch between the program concept and the
Agencys nature and talents became grossly apparent . . . especially, as we
continued with technology developments outside the EOS program.
Finally, the original EOS concept made for a poor overall risk management
strategy . . . too many instruments on too few platforms. Platform
co-location was chosen to achieve simultaneity of measurements, but that
requirement can be met with formation flying at a much lower risk.
Even at NASA, we realized that it didnt take a rocket scientist to move
away from that concept .
I am happy to report that the EOS 1st series and associated missions now
comprises some 25 missions between now and 2002, on medium, medium-light,
and small ELVs. Costs are lower by almost a factor of 3 for more
comprehensive measurements in the same scheduled time period.
We will continue this trend in planning for our future missions. We intend
to drastically shrink the size, cost and development time for missions in
the next decade, but never compromise on capabilities of these systems.
First, we are planning future missions with a much sharper science focus; a
focus on addressing a specific science question or questions rather than
conducing broad surveys.
Second, we are moving toward the use of commercial satellite buses rather
than developing new ones for each mission.
We have put in place a "catalog" procurement process where we can get a
pre-qualified spacecraft with priced options on contract in 30 days for
delivery in 2-3 years. (This used to take at least a year to negotiate, and
on the average, 7 years to implement.)
Third, we have changed satellite program paradigms from
science=>mission=>technology . . . to science=>technology=>mission.
In other words, we invest in technology off line and select a mission only
when the technology is ready.
Fourth, we are focusing our advanced technology development efforts on
We just selected 27 proposals for our Instrument Incubator program to mature
instrument concepts from idea to prototype to support our future Earth
And finally, we have begun a new series of Earth System Science Pathfinder
missions, which are Principal Investigator-led, and required less than 36
months from selection to launch.
The "PI-mode" of mission management allows the scientist full authority and
accountability for the success of the mission, and puts NASA in the role of
assisting -- rather than directing. The PI picks the science question to be
answered, the measurement approach to take, and has end-to-end mission
management responsibility and authority.
We feel these are important steps . . .but, by no means are we going to stop
with just smaller, cheaper versions of todays science satellites. Nor are
we going to confine ourselves to low Earth orbit.
The state of the art in instrument and spacecraft technologies points to a
day not too far off when sets of thousand kilogram, cubic meter satellites
are replaced by constellations of micro and nano-satellites with instruments
on chips that can meet a number of observational needs.
These will be stationed in a variety of orbits. They will give us synoptic
views and temporal resolutions impossible today.
And these wont be independent satellites -- they will be intelligent
constellations that work together to provide the views that provide the
temporal and spatial resolutions users want.
They will be capable of on-board data processing and direct downlink of
information to users desktop computers in near real time, at the cost of
long distance telephone calls. This will eliminate the bottlenecks caused by
massive information systems on the ground.
To go with these advanced satellites, we need advanced information system
architectures to ensure the accessibility and utility of the resultant data
Currently a user requires a high level of sophistication to navigate the
current collection of data holdings to get the desired scene or data set.
The Vice Presidents vision of a Digital Earth is the direction we need to
head, where data sets from multiple spacecraft are logically, relationally
organized, and can be searched, accessed, and visualized by the phenomena or
geographic areas of interest.
Make no mistake -- NASA is still committed to supplying the long term data
sets we promised in the EOS program . . . but we will do it with ever more
advanced satellite systems.
We will use New Millennium Program space-based technology demonstrations and
other means to retire the risks associated with new technologies . . .
technologies that enable advanced research and operational missions.
We arent doing this just because we are technology enthusiasts (we are!),
but because we can no longer afford to do business the old way. The old way
will never allow us to answer the target set of important science questions
when the answers are needed. This way lies success . . . this way lies the
Assuring the Health of Operational Observing Systems
We are very confident in the work we will do . . . but again, NASA isnt
going answer the worlds call for Earth science by itself. Domestic,
commercial and international partnerships are essential.
Our role is to push the leading edge of remote sensing science and
technology . We have an important but limited role in getting the benefits
of new Earth science understanding into the hands of those who can make
practical use of it. We are at the beginning of that chain.
The next link in the chain is the operational satellite systems; those that
can be counted on over the long term by weather forecasters . . . disaster
planning and response agencies . . . and scientists studying decadal and
centennial climate change
Every major instrument in the current suite of NOAA weather satellites came
from the predecessors of NASA Earth Science Enterprise. But sadly, over the
past decade, the technology transfer process between the two agencies has
That linkage must be restored.
The nation has made a great step forward in moving to integrate the civilian
and military operational weather satellite systems. And that program in turn
has taken important steps toward embracing climate science requirements.
We are working very closely with NOAA and DOD to see the converged satellite
- an advanced Earth surface imager
- an atmospheric temperature and humidity sounding package
- an ozone column profile monitor
- and a total solar irradiance monitor.
But fundamental steps still need to be taken to ensure the future
operational systems will not be the weak link in the chain that leads to
broad societal benefits from Earth science.
The Nations current vision for operational Earth observing systems is OK as
far as it goes . . . but it needs to be broadened considerably.
We need to work out a larger architecture that encompasses more than 2-5 day
weather & climate forecasts. It should consider Geostationary Earth Orbiters
(GEO) as well as polar orbiters. It should also consider including Earth
observing satellites at the solar L1 & L2 libration points in addition to
other non-conventional orbits such as highly elliptical orbits that could
yield constant polar coverage.
It should extend to ecosystems and oceans and polar regions. It should be
responsive in real time to natural disasters, allowing national and regional
authorities to zoom in on affected areas and rapidly provide that
perspective to emergency response teams.
It should include an active program of advanced technology development,
demonstration and infusion to enable cost and risk reduction through
formations and then constellations of smaller satellites.
Rest assured . . . NASA will do its part to make this happen. As a research
and development agency with a $1.4 billion annual investment in Earth
Science, we will develop instrument and spacecraft technologies to make the
measurements possible, and to mitigate risks to reduce the cost of
We are investing over $250 million per year in research, data analysis and
modeling, and an equal amount in data and information systems to enable
scientific explorations and discovery.
Using these resources, we can help ensure proper calibration across
successively more advanced instruments. And we will fund research to use the
data such systems produce.
We can produce satellites and satellite constellations to meet the
operational requirements of mission agencies, as we do today on a
reimbursable basis for NOAA.
NASA is committed to developing and demonstrating quasi-operational data
analysis systems to take full advantage of our observational capabilities.
And we would like to see these capabilities make their way into the
operational systems of our sister agencies.
Defining and implementing such an architecture is a long term endeavor. What
can we do now to get started?
I propose three steps:
First, we need a national commitment to long-term, multi-decadal climate
NASA will meet its 15 year EOS developmental and pre-operational monitoring
commitments. But right now, no agency has a multi-decadal operational
charter. Scientists plead, cajole and argue for long term, calibrated data,
but we need a community and government-wide commitment to provide them.
Second, the existing operational satellite system must open itself to
advanced instrument and spacecraft technology.
The current weather satellites are using 1970s technology.
Unless we are careful, the first NPOESS satellite in 2008 will emerge in the
tradition of the original, mammoth EOS satellites we abandoned in 1991--a
huge, multi-instrument satellite with a ten year development cycle. And we
could be locked into three decades without significant change.
We cant let ourselves go that way.
NASA will step up to being the technology supplier, but there must be a
commitment and a process to infuse new technologies into the operational
systems. Otherwise, they will never be able to produce more than they are
Third, it has become clear that the nation and the world needs an
operational ocean observing system to pair with the atmospheric one now
NASA has proven the value and achievability of ocean topography, ocean
color, ocean surface wind, and all-weather sea surface temperature
measurements. The nation must have a plan to supply these and the
corresponding in situ measurements on an operational basis.
The next link in the chain after operational observing system is the
commercial remote sensing industry.
These are the people who will extend the results of scientific research to
the broader economy. The commercial remote sensing industry comes in two
major categories, both of which must be healthy for society to receive the
maximum benefit of Earth Science.
The first group is the commercial providers of satellite systems.
Commercial satellite companies could be major providers in the operational
architecture we put in place.
This will help us amortize the cost across a wider base to reduce the burden
on taxpayers; international partnerships will also help reduce the cost to
the public. We are working with the commercial community to demonstrate
technology and validate data from new instruments in order to facilitate
The other important commercial category is the "value-added" information
product industry, which takes data from government and other satellite
systems and transforms it into information products meaningful to end users.
We work with this community to ensure unrestricted access to taxpayer-funded
data and on research on applications of data to regional and local needs.
A robust commercial remote sensing industry is essential the Nations effort
to address environmental challenges with relevant Earth Science information.
Earth science is truly science in the national interest.
NASA is excited to be in this business, and is committed to its success.
NASAs approach is to invest in a balanced way in observations, research and
data analysis, information systems, and advanced satellite technologies to
ensure the Nation has the tools to answer scientific questions about the
Earth, and to put these answers to work for the benefit of society.
What started as a handy view from space grew into a vision and has become an
We as an agency will do our part. But the challenges I have outlined are
challenges for the whole Earth science community. I urge you to join me in
ensuring that the nation, and indeed the world, gets from us what they need,
when they need it, at a price they can afford.
Because if we work together, the result will be more than an image like
"Earthrise." It will be a rise in the quality of life all over the Earth.
Thank you for inviting me to join you this evening.