Patricia Viets/NOAA NESDIS

(Phone: 301-457-5005)

Cynthia M. O’Carroll/Goddard Space Flight Center

(Phone: 301-614-5563)


April 1, 2000, marks the anniversary of the launch of the world’s
first weather satellite, the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration and the NASA reported today. With today’s
advanced technology, and with satellite images of clouds on television
weather forecasts, it may be difficult to remember when there were no
weather satellites.

The world’s first weather satellite, a polar-orbiting satellite,
was launched from Cape Canaveral on April 1, 1960. Named “TIROS” for
Television Infrared Observation Satellite, it demonstrated the advantage of
mapping the earth’s cloud cover from satellite altitudes. TIROS showed
clouds banded and clustered in unexpected ways. Sightings from the surface
had not prepared meteorologists for the interpretation of the cloud
patterns that the view from an orbiting satellite would show.

Today, the nation’s environmental satellites are operated by NOAA’s
National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service in
Suitland, Md. NOAA’s environmental satellite system is composed of two
types of satellites: geostationary operational environmental satellites for
national, regional, short-range warning and “now-casting;” and
polar-orbiting environmental satellites for global, long-term forecasting
and environmental monitoring. Both GOES and POES are necessary for
providing a complete global weather monitoring system. Both also carry
search and rescue instruments to relay signals from aviators and mariners
in distress.

POES satellites monitor the entire Earth, tracking atmospheric
variables and providing atmospheric data and cloud images. They track
weather patterns affecting
the weather and climate of the United States. The satellites provide
visible and infrared radiometer data for imaging purposes, radiation
measurements, and temperature and moisture profiles. The polar orbiters’
ultraviolet sensors also measure ozone levels in the atmosphere and are
able to detect the “ozone hole” over Antarctica from mid-September to
mid-November. Each day, these satellites send global measurements to
NOAA’s Command and Data Acquisition station computers, adding vital
information to forecasting models, especially for remote ocean areas, where
conventional data are lacking.

GOES satellites are a mainstay of weather forecasting in the United
States. They are the backbone of short-term forecasting or nowcasting.
The real-time weather data gathered by GOES satellites, combined with data
from Doppler radars and automated surface observing systems, greatly aids
weather forecasters in providing warnings of thunderstorms, winter storms,
flash floods, hurricanes, and other severe weather. These warnings help to
save lives and preserve property. The United States operates two
meteorological satellites in geostationary orbit, one over the East Coast
and one over the West Coast with overlapping coverage over the United
States. Currently, GOES-8 and GOES-10 are in operation.

In addition, NOAA operates satellites in the Defense Meteorological
Satellite Program (DMSP), which are also polar-orbiting satellites. NOAA
also manages the processing and distribution of the millions of bits of
data and images the GOES and POES satellites produce each day.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., is responsible
for the procurement, development, launch services and verification testing
of the spacecraft, instruments and unique ground equipment. Following
deployment of the spacecraft from the launch vehicle, Goddard is
responsible for the mission operation phase leading to injection of the
satellite into orbit and initial in-orbit satellite checkout and

On May 5, 1994, President Clinton made the landmark decision to
merge the nation’s military and civil polar-orbiting operational
meteorological satellite systems into a single, national system capable of
satisfying both civil and national security requirements for space-based
remotely sensed environmental data. The new system is called the National
Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, or NPOESS.
Convergence of the civil and military programs is the most significant
change in U.S. operational remote sensing since the launch of the first
weather satellite.

The first converged satellite is expected to be available for
launch in the latter half of the decade, approximately 2008, depending on
when the remaining POES and DMSP program satellite assets are exhausted.

Notes to Editors: A conference will be held on April 5 on 40 years of
weather satellites. See the following site for more information:

Graphics are available on the Internet:

First image is at:

First launch is at:

NASA web sites:

Kisha Wright

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Public Affairs Assistant/Code 130


Office: 301-286-4084 Fax: 301-286-1707