Charlene AndersonMar 04, 2011

Glory Lost - But Its Mission Must Go On

Another painful loss to NASA's mission to study Earth from space: Today a Taurus XL rocket failed to lift the Glory satellite into Earth orbit when its clam-shell nosecone refused to open, forcing the rocket and its payload into the southern Pacific Ocean.

"I'm very disappointed. It shows us again that space is hard," said Bill Nye, the Planetary Society's Executive Director. "This rocket has failed on three out of nine flights; again, something went wrong. And, that something was apparently the same fairing that gave us trouble on the Orbiting Carbon Observatory."

On the same morning as the crash, NASA had already begun to assemble a Mishap Investigation Board. This is the second time the fairing on a Taurus failed, dooming another critical Earth-observing satellite: The Orbiting Carbon Observatory was lost two years ago; there was an investigation and changes were made to the fairing mechanism. Why this did not prevent this second failure will no doubt be a focus of the new investigation.

Glory had been tasked with measuring the interactions between the Sun's incoming radiation and our atmosphere's response to it, focusing particularly on aerosols, particles so tiny they float in the air. Both natural processes and human actions pump aerosols into the atmosphere, and understanding their effects on our planet's thin blanket of gases is critical to understanding climate change.

"Once again, we're losing time in learning about Earth's atmosphere and climate. Along with the investigations and the reports in thick notebooks and the inevitable Powerpoint presentations, here's hoping engineers and technicians are given the resources to get the needed spacecraft in orbit as soon as possible."

The first objective for NASA, as stated in the Space Act of 1958 that created the agency, read: "The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space." Studying Earth's atmosphere has always been part of NASA's reason for being, and the Planetary Society will work to see that Glory's critical mission is completed.

Glory Image: NASA / GSFC

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