National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Recommendations and Actions

NASA05: Clarify the Objectives of the Mission to Planet Earth Program


NASA considers its Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) to be one of its highest-priority programs. The MTPE is designed to describe, over a long period of time, the earth's environment, as well as ongoing natural and human-induced global change, through the use of satellites, aircraft, and associated technologies. Using the unique perspective of space and high- altitude atmospheric vehicles, NASA will contribute essential data to national and international assessments of the future of our environment on both global and regional scales. These assessments will provide the strongest scientific basis for the formulation of government policy regarding sustainable development and environmental management. NASA will do this in partnership with other federal agencies of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) as well as the international participants in the Committee on Earth Observing Satellites.

The core element of MTPE is NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS) which will produce a series of five low Earth orbit spacecraft beginning in 1998. In addition, MTPE includes a phased process, from the launch of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) in 1991, through a series of smaller, more focused missions carried out through the end of the decade. These early missions, such as the Earth Probes series and the Ocean Topography Experiment (TOPEX/Poseidon), along with high-altitude remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs), will be integrated with NASA's ongoing ground-based research programs. Such programs will focus on observing, understanding, and modelling radiation, dynamics, and hydrology as well as ecosystem dynamics and biochemical cycles, atmospheric chemistry, and solid Earth science.

Of course, the most critical element of MTPE will be the collection, storage and dissemination of the data collected. The Earth Observation System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) is NASA's planned data archive and distribution system to support MTPE efforts. EOSDIS is designed to assimilate remote sensing data acquired from the space components of MTPE. It will also generate, archive, catalog, and make available a consistent, long-term database of measurements needed for global change research to a broad range of users. When the EOSDIS is fully developed, it will be the largest civilian data system ever built. The development of this system should be a catalyst for maintaining the position of the U.S. industry as a leader in the world market for database management and computer network technologies. Furthermore, EOSDIS will be the primary element of the Global Change Data and Information System (GCDIS) currently under development by the federal government to combine environmental data sets from space platforms and other sources across agencies.

The MTPE represents a major national investment in a long-term program of sustained research. The results of this program should permit a better understanding of the global environment and lead to the development of informed public policy and advancements in new technologies. Because of the importance of MTPE, NASA must take steps to ensure that the program is properly planned and operated to provide the greatest benefit to the United States and the international community.


1. NASA should use innovative management and streamlined procurement mechanisms to ensure that MTPE development costs are contained within existing estimates and that life-cycle costs are minimized.

Tight cost control on MTPE system development should be maintained by using new ground prototype systems, as well as products and services developed in other programs. NASA should also fully use its new contract reform initiatives throughout MTPE.

2. NASA should ensure that the development of MTPE is consistent with high-priority national and international science objectives relating to global change research.

The priorities embodied in the recommendations of the USGCRP should guide program development of the MTPE. Furthermore, for the purposes of climate change research, the recommendations of the International Panel on Climate Changes should serve as the top priority for the program.

3. NASA should give emphasis to policymakers in the implementation of MTPE.

The success of the MTPE will be based on the accessibility of timely, useful information to both scientists and policymakers. The EOSDIS system will also be user-friendly and accessible at low cost. The objective of the system will be to provide easy access to data relevant to policymakers in a readily usable form. Based on this format, the EOSDIS has the goal to provide the basis for the broader GCDIS activity for the federal government as well as to encourage the participation of state governments in its use. The EOSDIS development program should also provide flexibility to incorporate the results of non-traditional data sets into the archive. Finally, the EOSDIS format should be compatible with the requirements and expectations of international researchers.

4. NASA should employ innovative development approaches to the EOSDIS program which emphasize evolutionary growth, technology infusion, and direct customer participation.

The design of the EOSDIS should incorporate the latest open system approaches and be vendor- independent. The design should also allow for the replacement and addition of new functional components (hardware and/or software) within its overall structure as the system evolves. The program should demonstrate the proper balance between detailed functional specifications and implementation flexibility by using a "build a little, test a little" approach that will take full advantage of prototyping, user demonstrations, and customer feedback. Finally, the system should permit the rapid acquisition and integration of the latest technology.

5. NASA should encourage the educational benefits of the EOSDIS.

Since EOSDIS is designed to be easily accessible in a readily usable form and at low cost, NASA should ensure that potential educational contributions are maximized. Consideration of student and general public access to EOSDIS should be incorporated into the design of the system. NASA should encourage mentoring relationships using EOSDIS to leverage the excitement of space exploration, the capabilities of digital information systems, and the need to better understand the processes that affect the earth's environment.

6. NASA should assist in ongoing efforts to converge U.S. operational weather satellites, given the benefits of streamlining the collection of weather data across the government.

By considering MTPE research activities in context with operational weather satellite programs, cost savings are possible through convergence of the current operational satellite fleets. Convergence of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Polar Metsat and NASA's EOS-PM (Earth Observing System--Afternoon Crossing [Descending] Mission) will eliminate redundancy of measurements, enhance the capability of NOAA's data set and potentially result in cost savings. In pursuing the above policy, NASA should preserve the capability for new research and technology development in a more streamlined program.


The implementation of these recommendations should enhance the capabilities of MTPE and ensure its usefulness to both researchers and policymakers. Management techniques using new, more powerful development test beds and data purchases, where appropriate, should ensure the maximum benefit received from the program. New procurement mechanisms which emphasize performance should also increase program efficiency. By maintaining close attention to the requirements of the policymaking community, MTPE should provide a solid scientific foundation for future policy development. Finally, by emphasizing user-friendly designs and low operational costs, the EOSDIS will increase accessibility of data to all users.


Savings from the implementation of these recommendations cannot be determined at this time. However, the combination of a constrained development budget through the year 2000 and a clear NASA commitment to reduce operational costs over the lifetime of MTPE could result in reduced life-cycle costs for the program.

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