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Opening Statement by Rep. Mark Udall - House Science Committee Hearing on NASA Earth Sciences

Press Release From: Rep. Mark Udall
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2005

Good morning. I'd like to join my colleagues in welcoming our witnesses to today's hearing. I am particularly eager to hear from Dr. Tim Killeen from the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Dr. Killeen has been the director of NCAR since 2000, and in that capacity he oversees the important research performed at NCAR. Of course, I have a particular interest in NCAR because it is located within my congressional district. But in addition, the Center's research has an impact nationwide since NCAR is operated by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research—or UCAR—which includes 68 universities across the country.

With the collaboration of these universities, NCAR is able to perform research that is beyond the capabilities of any one university. So welcome, Dr. Killen—I look forward to your testimony.

Turning now to the topic of today's hearing, I will say up front that I am a strong believer in the importance of a strong national program in Earth science and applications. And I think that NASA, NOAA, and our universities have a critical role to play in increasing our understanding of the Earth and its environment through the collection and analysis of Earth observation data.

In addition to being of interest scientifically, commercial and governmental remote sensing data can and should be leveraged to meet a variety of important societal needs—including such things as land use planning, homeland security, and water resources management.

To that end, earlier this year I reintroduced H.R. 426, the Remote Sensing Applications Act, which is a bill that already passed the House in a previous Congress, and I look forward to working with Members on both sides of the aisle to advance its goals in this Session.

However, despite the importance of Earth science and applications research, all is not well with NASA's Earth Science program. Indeed, the just-released interim report of a Committee of the National Research Council makes it clear that NASA's Earth Science program is facing a serious threat to its future viability.

In that regard, the NRC report enumerates a whole series of planned missions and research activities that are being cut back or eliminated by NASA.

In addition, a number of currently operating missions that are still returning useful scientific data—such as Voyager—are threatened with premature termination. While I certainly recognize that when ongoing missions lose their scientific productivity they need to be turned off to free up resources for newer missions, a number of the missions threatened with termination do not appear to fall into that category. I hope that NASA will take another look at those missions before doing something irrevocable.

Finally, I'm concerned by the push to eliminate or significantly delay planned NASA Earth Science missions such as the Landsat Follow-on mission and the Glory mission.

With respect to Landsat, there may well be good budgetary or operational reasons to consider moving a Landsat sensor onto NPOESS, the joint NOAA-DOD weather satellite currently under development. However, I am concerned that neither the technical impacts of such a move nor its likely cost impacts are well understood at this point.

I would hate for us to eliminate NASA's planned Landsat follow-on spacecraft now only to find out a few years down the road that trying to include a Landsat instrument on NPOESS is having unacceptable impacts on the NPOESS program. I fear that the ultimate outcome of such a situation could be a significant loss of Landsat data continuity.

I hope that the witnesses at today's hearing can help us better understand what the implications of putting NASA missions like Landsat onto the NPOESS spacecraft are, and what we will need to pay attention to if we agree to proceed down that path.

Well, Mr. Chairman, there are many other issues that I could mention, but at this point I would rather yield back my time so we can hear from our witnesses. Thank you.

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