Show an ad over header. AMP

I am the FIRST

White House, NASA tout new satellites to monitor climate change, hurricanes

The White House is providing fresh details of a major satellite program that administration officials call poised to reveal vital information about climate change and extreme weather events.

Why it matters: Known as the "Earth System Observatory," the program consists of at least five satellites to be launched through 2029 that will enhance, or in some cases revolutionize, the capabilities of the space agency's existing fleet of Earth-observing satellites.

Details: In an interview with Axios on Monday, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the upcoming satellite constellation will look at everything from aerosols — tiny particles in the atmosphere that are a major source of uncertainty in climate models — to sea level rise.

  • He said these missions will observe the changes in the planet's forests and ice sheets, as well as shifts in water resources and geological phenomena.
  • “All of these will create a 3D view of our Earth from the atmosphere to the bedrock," Nelson said.

Yes, but: Some of these satellites, including a radar imaging mission known as NISAR, which can measure shifts in Earth’s surface down to a resolution of a half-inch, have been in the works for some time.

  • That joint U.S.-India mission is set to launch next year.
  • Others, however, are still on the drawing board, and NASA is taking inspiration from a 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences.

State of play: Nelson said the program's prominent inclusion in a White House's hurricane preparedness fact sheet on Monday, along with added funding for FEMA, indicates the administration’s support for it.

  • "They are the ones that announced the Earth System Observatory," Nelson said when asked about White House buy-in for what would be an expensive, multi-year program.
  • "Now it didn't start today, because you can't build a sophisticated spacecraft that you're gonna launch in a year and a half... that’s already underway and is being funded," he said of the NISAR spacecraft.

The big picture: Nelson comes to the NASA job having served in both houses of Congress and, while a lawmaker, flying aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986. While orbiting the globe, he said he felt what astronauts call the "overview effect," a newly deepened appreciation for the uniqueness of Earth and its fragility.

  • "For example, coming across Brazil I could see with the naked eye, the color differential in the upper Amazon region, which is where they were destroying the rainforest — and then I could look in the same window to the east, and see all of the additional silt that was coming out of the Amazon into the Atlantic," Nelson said.
  • "I became more of an environmentalist when I flew in space."

What to watch: As NASA administrator, Nelson is in a science communication, rather than policy-making role. But he shares President Biden's sense of urgency on climate change.

  • “Now I'm in a position to try to help my friend, who is the President, and what he is trying to do, is to shape the reality of what is happening to our planet into the focus of people's minds, that the Earth is in fact heating up, and we'd better get about the business of trying to do something about it," he said.
  • "Otherwise, you will continue to have more ferocious storms, and, and they will be larger."

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

Keep reading... Show less

Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

Keep reading... Show less

"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

Keep reading... Show less

What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories