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Friday, June 09, 2006

NASA Shelves Climate Satellites - by Beth Daley

NASA is canceling or delaying a number of satellites designed to give scientists critical information on the earth's changing climate and environment.
 
The space agency has shelved a $200 million satellite mission headed by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor that was designed to measure soil moisture -- a key factor in helping scientists understand the impact of global warming and predict droughts and floods. The Deep Space Climate Observatory, intended to observe climate factors such as solar radiation, ozone, clouds, and water vapor more comprehensively than existing satellites, also has been canceled.
 
And in its 2007 budget, NASA proposes significant delays in a global precipitation measuring mission to help with weather predictions, as well as the launch of a satellite designed to increase the timeliness and accuracy of severe weather forecasts and improve climate models.
 
The changes come as NASA prioritizes its budget to pay for completion of the International Space Station and the return of astronauts to the moon by 2020 -- a goal set by President Bush that promises a more distant and arguably less practical scientific payoff. Ultimately, scientists say, the delays and cancellations could make hurricane predictions less accurate, create gaps in long-term monitoring of weather, and result in less clarity about the earth's hydrological systems, which play an integral part in climate change.
 
``Today, when the need for information about the planet is more important than ever, this process of building understanding through increasingly powerful observations . . . is at risk of collapse," said Berrien Moore III, director of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire.
 
Moore is cochairman of a National Research Council committee that will recommend NASA's future earth science agenda later this year. It is unclear, however, whether NASA will follow those recommendations.
 
``NASA has canceled, scaled back, or delayed all of the planned earth observing missions," he said.
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