Space Shuttle Discovery launched again on Monday, one of the last times it will go into orbit. In the future, NASA may be spending more time on Earth. NPR reports that the Obama administration has given NASA $2.4 billion over the next five years to help strengthen its satellites. Marking a 60 percent increase from the previous budget, the goal is to help NASA build its earth sciences program to determine just how the planet is reacting to threats like climate change.
NASA’s Earth Sciences Division has been severely underfunded for the past two decades. Satellites were allowed to fall into disrepair. Consequently, little was done to record ocean temperatures, polar ice, coastal wetlands, and other important signs for the planet’s health.
Much of the money will be spent trying to determine how fast the Earth’s climate is changing. Scientists will look at the rates in which carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere. Despite their efforts, scientists still don’t know what happens to carbon dioxide once it gets into the atmosphere or how is it being exchanged between ocean and land. Michael Freilich is the director of NASA's Earth Science Division. As he told NPR, "In order to figure out where [carbon dioxide] is going, how it is being exchanged between the atmosphere and the ocean, and the atmosphere and the land, you have to make a whole variety of measurements."
This new cash infusion to the Earth Sciences Division will help answer these questions. What’s more, scientists will look at how fast the Earth’s ice is melting, as well as measurements of the Earth’s groundwater. (At present, the Earth’s groundwater is being depleted faster than it is being replaced.) NASA will be able to follow up on detailed measurements of the Earth’s gravitational pull, taken by the GRACE satellites since 2002.
The budget still needs approval from Congress, but it seems that most lawmakers are on board with the changes.
For further reading: NASA slated to receive billions to study the earth