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NASA Science

First Weather Satellite Launched 50 Years Ago 52

stinkbomb writes "Fifty years ago today, the world's first weather satellite lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and opened a new and exciting dimension in weather forecasting. Top leaders from NOAA and NASA hailed the milestone as an example of their agencies' strong partnership and commitment to flying the best satellites today and beyond."
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First Weather Satellite Launched 50 Years Ago

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  • Space Junk (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Taco Cowboy ( 5327 ) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @02:48AM (#31713776) Journal

    At the rate we are creating space junk, 50 years from now it would be nearly impossible for anyone to keep their bird flying up there safely.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      New parachute-like devices are being proposed that create more drag for spent rockets and satellites so that they come down sooner:

      http://dvice.com/archives/2010/03/cubesail-parach.php [dvice.com]

      It won't work for lost parts and collision debris, but it's a start.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Build and deploy massive blocks of aerogel [wikipedia.org] in orbit and use it to scoop up debris and lost parts. Making it burn up on re-entry might be a problem though.

        • Now I'm having a day dream of a huge piece of aerogel slowly falling/floating on my part of the city, will all kinds of interesting space junk embedded in it. It would be some kind of Xmas with a hugely large tree.

          • Well, they are pretty good at making controlled deorbits into the oceans. And considering the mass of aerogel (lightest is 1.9 mg/cm^3 compared to 1.2 mg/cm^3 for air), a 100x100x10 m^3 block of aerogel would weigh 190 ton. Sounds like a lot, but if you stood it on its smallest end that's only 0.25 psi or 0.017 atmospheres.

            In other words, you wouldn't really feel it if it laid on top of you, which is an absurd notion.

          • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

            Interestingly, I once read a UFO report in which a floating "pillow like" block passed through the length of an aerospace warehouse in a steady, drifting kind of way conveniently just out of reach of the workers. Makes you wonder if the Soviets or aliens are not using aerogel for surveillance craft.

    • Re:Space Junk (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwaterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday April 03, 2010 @10:18AM (#31715534) Homepage

      At the rate we are creating space junk, 50 years from now it would be nearly impossible for anyone to keep their bird flying up there safely.

      That's what urban legend, the professionally panics, and those whose livelihoods depends on getting eyeballs on column ink (electrons?) would have you believe. As usual, the reality is far different. Launchers and spacecraft today are required to minimize debris production. Separation hardware is now retained rather than being jettisoned. Spent stages vent rather than being allowed to explode. Etc. Etc..
      Is the problem solved? No. Is progress being made? Yes, quite a bit. Statements like the one quoted above are just ill informed alarmism.
      PS to the guy who suggested aerogel: Unless you match velocities with the debris, all you'll have is aerogel with a hole in it. Once you've matched velocities, you could capture the debris in a brown paper bag and you won't need aerogel, which is only any good for capturing debris a small fraction of the size that causes the most worries. I wish the comment about aerogel would stop getting moderated up - it's like suggesting containing a nuclear explosion by wrapping the bomb in chewing gum wrappers.

      • Capturing the debris isn't the only function of an aerogel shield - hastening the decay of small but dangerous pieces of space junk by robbing them of velocity is also useful.

        Not that we could put up an aerogel shield of sufficient size to make a single, tiny bit of difference...that's a different question.

        • Except that aerogel really doesn't do anything to hasten the decay of small pieces either, not without accepting collisions that generate even more debris.
          Seriously, aerogel capture of space debris is one of these memes running around that everybody accepts as true - but really has little to no scientific basis behind it.

  • Not a Soviet first? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 )

    I'm surprised the Soviets were not the first with a weather sat. They were pretty much ahead of the space game for several years after Sputnik. They took the first pics of the hidden side of the moon, for example. However, the US was catching up in space electronics pretty fast even though our rocket technology lagged for a while.

    • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @04:15AM (#31714022) Homepage Journal

      Its harder to get good photographs of weather at high latitudes because you either have to do it from high altitude and an oblique angle, or from low altitude in a high inclination orbit. Doing it that way you get two passes at the most per day.

      Also, maybe they did have weather satellites but the data wasn't released to civilians because high altitude photography was considered secret.

      • There is a way to do this, using a Molniya type orbit pattern. Three satellites in a Molniya orbit would give you 24 hour coverage over the high altitudes and polar regions, but in order to use such data you'd need at least two ground stations tracking the satellites constantly. It's just much easier to view the earth from a geosynchronous orbit instead and not worry about polar information so much.
      • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwaterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday April 03, 2010 @01:04PM (#31716704) Homepage

        Its harder to get good photographs of weather at high latitudes because you either have to do it from high altitude and an oblique angle, or from low altitude in a high inclination orbit.

        You missed options three and four. You can also use a high inclination Molnyia orbit [centennialofflight.gov]. (Which the Russians have used at various times.) You can also use a polar orbit (which most US birds use), which can get photos every couple of hours.
        So high latitude weather photography is really only difficult if you choose to make it so.

    • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot@NOsPam.hackish.org> on Saturday April 03, 2010 @04:27AM (#31714088)

      They were a bit ahead early on, but not by that much. Here's an incomplete timeline of some firsts:

      October 1957: Sputnik 1, first satellite [USSR]
      November 1957: Sputnik 2, first space capsule capable of sustaining life (contained a dog) [USSR]
      January 1958: Explorer 1, first U.S. satellite, first to carry scientific instruments [USA]
      March 1958: Vanguard 1, first solar-powered satellite [USA]
      May 1958: Sputnik 3, first Soviet satellite to carry scientific instruments (but tape recorder failed, so collected no data) [USSR]
      December 1958: Project SCORE, first communications satellite [USA]
      February 1959: Vanguard 2, first weather satellite (though didn't collect much useful data) [USA]
      April 1960: TIROS-1, first successful weather satellite [USA]
      August 1960: Sputnik 5, first roundtrip of living animals (40 mice) in a capsule [USSR]
      April 1961: Vostok 1, first human in space [USSR]
      May 1961: Freedom 7, first American in space [USA]

      • Dont' forget the whole historical Soviet Luna series of moon probes in the late 50's.

      • by sznupi ( 719324 )

        January 1958: Explorer 1, first U.S. satellite, first to carry scientific instruments
        ^that's incorrect

        How was Sputnik 1 radiostation (giving data about ionosphere, and also temperature & pressure inside (so hence on whether or not the satellite was punctured = density of micrometeorites which could do that)) not a scientific instrument?

        Even if you want to dismiss Sputnik 1, there's alwyas Sputnik 2 with photometers and monitoring the condition of the dog. It technically discovered Van Allen belts with i

    • Already by simply going to wikipedia you can learn that this is not the true first.


      The first television image of Earth from space from the TIROS-1 weather satellite.

      The first weather satellite, Vanguard 2, was launched on February 17, 1959. It was designed to measure cloud cover and resistance, but a poor axis of rotation kept it from collecting a notable amount of useful data.

      The first weather satellite to be considered a success was TIROS-1, launched by NASA on 1 April 1960. TIROS operated f

      • by bmo ( 77928 )

        "And who knows what the soviets did,"

        We know all about their early Zenit spy sats. I suggest that less sensitive things like weather satellites are easier to research.

        We all know it's popular these days to beat up on the US even when it's not justified. Like what you just did.


        • Maybe easier, but why bother spending the resources? When you could pay X to find out whether the Soviets have weather sats in the sky, or X*10 to find out whether the Soviets have spy sats, what do you think gets spent?

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by calidoscope ( 312571 )
            You would be surprised how little it can cost to track satellites. Ever hear about the satellite tracking work done by an English school teacher and his students? They had both deduced that some Soviet sats were photo recon and that the Soviets had a new launch site.

            To be useful, a weather sat needs to download the data in near real-time and AFAIK there was no record of any Soviet bird doing that before Tiros.

            • by sznupi ( 719324 )

              To be useful, a weather sat needs to download the data in near real-time and AFAIK there was no record of any Soviet bird doing that before Tiros.

              What do you mean here? Early Soviet satellites operater strictly in realtime transmission.

      • US history has a tendency to ignore the rest of the world. Simple check...

        I'm sorry I wasted my mode points dude. +1 insightful for you.

      • So the first successful one? And who knows what the soviets did

        Anyone who has actually paid attention to space history, especially with the massive amounts of information that has come out since the end of the Cold War, or who has the ability (and intelligence) to use Google.

        The first Soviet weather birds were the Meteor [astronautix.com] series, with the first test launches being in 1964 and reaching full operation in 1969.

    • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @04:59AM (#31714172)

      "I'm surprised the Soviets were not the first with a weather sat."

      You don't know how close the space race really was.

      A weather sat with a better camera is a spy sat. We were heavily into that as soon as possible, earlier than the Soviets (1959 with Corona and the USSR with Zenit in 1962). A launch of a weather or science satellite also looks the same as a spy satellite. And indeed, the first launches of spy satellites were announced as "Discoverer" science missions.

      Interestingly, Yuri Gagarin's capsule was actually the first spy satellite hull. The Soviets sacrificed the first hull to get Yuri in the air, and the second one became the first Zenit spy sat. They were able to accomplish this because in the Soviet system, the whole thing went up and came back, camera and all, for reloading for film. Sending up a delicate (and heavy) camera and bringing it back in one piece is pretty similar to getting a human up and back. The tests with dogs like Laika and the rest were to ensure that they could get the cameras back in one piece just as well as getting a human back.

      The US Corona system didn't lend itself to dual use like the Zenit system did - it only ejected film packs to be returned by parachute and retrieved in mid air. There was no need to bring the whole apparatus back.

      Eisenhower was excoriated in the press for Sputnik, but declassified docs showed that he was already on the ball by the time the Soviets launched. Since he couldn't say anything about actual spy satellites, he couldn't fend off the press.

      Eisenhower also benefited from Sputnik dispelling the notion of "airspace" beyond the Earth's atmosphere - that national borders didn't extend to infinity.

      It's all interesting stuff.

      Weather sats were a side benefit to the whole cold-war spy business.


      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by corbettw ( 214229 )

        Strategically, letting the Soviets go first was a good move. Can you imagine how Nikita "We will bury you" Khrushchev would've responded if the US had been first to launch a satellite? He would've banged his shoe at the UN some more and whined and complained about us invading their territory. But with the Soviets going first and us not complaining about Sputnik flying over our territory, the precedent was set that satellites could go anywhere. It might not have been Ike's plan all along, but it definitely w

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by calidoscope ( 312571 )
          Eisenhower was especially worried about the Soviets reaction to a launcher developed by von Braun's group - they could have had a bird in orbit in January 1956. Eisenhower ordered personnel at the Cape to make sure that there was no fourth stage on that launch.
      • A weather sat with a better camera is a spy sat.

        You're forgetting one important difference: weather satellites need to return imagery in real time or near real time - getting a film of a hurricane forming doesn't do a bit of good if it arrives a week after the hurricane makes landfall. Besides that, a 1km resolution is adequate for most weather imagery, but very little use for recon.

        • by bmo ( 77928 )

          Did you even bother to read the rest of the message?


          • I did and even had heard comments that the TIROS was a first stab at a recon satellite (though the Hubble 'scope borrows much more from recon satellite technology).
    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      I imagine it has also something to do with the climate. Primitive weather satellites are much more usefull for a country which is, say, often at the mercy of hurricanes.

      In contrast, most of Soviet Union had very continental climate; very predictable, really.

  • How many year more before we realize that its was a mistake ? Groundhog day
  • by thephydes ( 727739 ) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @05:56AM (#31714362)
    ..... that the average Joe Blow with a basic receiver and antenna and suitable software on his/her computer can pick up the weather pix for themselves. Go on you lazy bastards google it yourselves - "weather satellite receiver kit", "turnstile antenna", "weather satellite receiving antenna" - and get the gen from our favourite data company.
    • by raddan ( 519638 ) *
      Decided to respond instead of mod. Thanks! This is awesome! Don't know why I never thought to do this...
    • This is true, but the resolution is not going to be at the same level as the images you see on television or online. NOAA does provide guides for anyone with the equipment to receive the transmissions. Still, it is a fun kind of receiving watching an image appear on the screen one line at a time. (I'm old enough to remember when the transmissions were more like a fax signal, a fax being exactly what was hooked to the receiver to generate the image.)
  • by VoiceOfSanity ( 716713 ) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @06:51AM (#31714580)
    TIROS 1 was one of those major milestones that we take for granted today. With today's coverage via the GOES and POES (Polar Orbiting Environment Satellite, along with the older ESSA and NIMBUS satellite systems from the mid 1960's and 1970's) weather forecasting took a giant step forward from the late 1950's to today. Just as an example, take hurricane forecasting. Back in the 1950's and early 1960's, discovery of a hurricane forming would have been from a ship report in the Gulf of Mexico, reports from the Leeward Islands, or a Hurricane Hunter randomly coming across the storm during routine patrols. Once satellites were added into the mix, the discovery of the storm became easier with increased advance notice for populated areas. What used to be 12 hours warning for an area (New Orleans, Hurricane Betsy 1965) became 35 hours warning (New Orleans/Biloxi, Hurricane Katrina, 2005). This made a significant difference not only in being able forecast the movement of the storms, but also to get the warnings out to evacuate people and save lives.

    The weather satellite is perhaps the best example of how our technology has improved our lifestyle overall.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...is that there is a direct correlation between the number of weather satellites and the global average temperature?

    I knew it! Weather satellites are the cause of global wa^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hclimate change!

  • Successfully launching a satellite is significant. Developing and building the resources for the acquisition of telemetry is significant. Storing the high resolution data is significant. I would have to disagree with anyone that says building these things from essentially nothing is not as significant feat as going to the moon or building the first microprocessor.

    For those of us who really only car about what is happening now, the data from these era of satellites is proving invaluable.The Nimbus II da [sciencemag.org]

  • by couch_warrior ( 718752 ) on Saturday April 03, 2010 @01:31PM (#31716918)
    NASA has been collecting earth-observing data for five decades now, and in spite of the current wave of interest in climate related matters, little or no effort is put into examining this historical record. A small group of scientists within the US Geological Survey have heroically attempted to preserve this enormous treasure of historical climate data at a small data center in South Dakota. But hundreds of terabytes of irreplaceable data are at risk of being lost forever because no one seems to care. There are lobbyists galore for NEW satellite systems, but in many cases you might as well pour the data into a bit bucket, we spend billions of dollars collecting data, and pennies storing and analyzing it. Instead of relying on flawed computer models and bogus prognostications, the Global Warming debate could be based on real hard data, if anyone wanted to take the time to go look at it. http://eros.usgs.gov/#/About_Us [usgs.gov]
    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      Better don't hope for it too much, eventually you'll run out of obviously nefariously ignored data because those are finally the one that will prove all the talk of greater scientific community is bogus (which you luckuly conclusivelly know already)

  • It launched 1-April. Did it really take the Mods two days to post this?

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford