NASA Administrator

Daniel S. Goldin

address as prepared for delivery

to the

American Geophysical Union

December 6, 1998

A View, A Vision, An Imperative



It is a great time at NASA.

It’s our 40th anniversary and we’re still basking in the glow of John

Glenn’s 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 wouldn’t be surprised if "Earthrise" -- that awe-inspiring

picture of the Earth appearing past the Moon’s horizon -- was what inspired

some of you to embark in the fields that are now your life’s 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

from space.

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 Earth’s radiation

budget (ERBE).

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


We’ve 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 world’s 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

sound solutions.

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 I’ll address this in

three elements: science, technology, and operational systems.



Formulating Science Questions that Address Society’s 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-sustaining—not 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

climate system.

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.

That’s 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.

We’re 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 Earth’s 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 Earth’s 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 can’t 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.

NASA’s 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 it’s a

virtuous triangle.

When it works right, remote sensing technologies will support a robust U.S.

remote sensing industry, and help apply remote sensing observations for the

public good.



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 it’s 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?

That’s 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

Agency’s 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 didn’t 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.

Here’s how:

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

scientific instruments.

We just selected 27 proposals for our Instrument Incubator program to mature

instrument concepts from idea to prototype to support our future Earth

Science missions.

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 today’s 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 won’t 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 President’s 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 aren’t 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 isn’t

going answer the world’s 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

system fly –

- 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 Nation’s 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

operational systems.

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 1970’s 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 can’t 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

producing today.

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

their participation.

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 Nation’s 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.

NASA’s 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.