David E. Steitz

Headquarters, Washington, DC

(Phone: 202/358-1730)

RELEASE: 00-51

Of the twenty-four proposals submitted, NASA’s Office of
Earth Sciences will fund four innovative Earth system science
investigation concepts for future development as complete
spaceflight missions or secondary payload instruments through the
University Earth System Science (UnESS) Project.

“The UnESS program was established to foster the development
of the next generation of Earth system scientists, engineers,
managers, educators, and entrepreneurs through significant and
meaningful hands-on student involvement in Earth observation space
missions at the university level,” said Dr. Ghassem Asrar,
Associate Administrator for Earth Sciences.

“NASA’s Earth Science enterprise and the aerospace industry
will benefit from having these experienced scientists and
engineers graduating through this program that provides hands-on
experience,” Asrar said.

“Funding for these extended mission concepts during a study
phase of nine months will be approximately $300,000 each. At the
end of this phase, we will select two missions and one back-up for
final implementation. The two primary missions will be funded at
$15 million each,” Asrar stated.

The hands-on student involvement in these mission concepts
ranges from helping prepare the proposals to analysis and
distribution of data to the science community. Final selection of
the missions for development will give equal weight to the
scientific and student/applications involvement aspects of the

The four concepts chosen for further development are:

* The “SPACE” mission, proposed by Columbia University, New
York, NY, would examine, from aboard the International Space
Station, the scattering properties of clouds and aerosols over a
two-year period.

* The THOR mission, proposed by the University of Alabama in
Huntsville, hopes to examine in unprecedented detail the growth
and decay of thunderstorms through continuous observations of
lightning over the Americas and adjacent oceans. By placing a
lightning-monitoring sensor on a weather satellite, the THOR team
hopes to gain radical new insight into the formation and evolution
of thunderstorms.

* The Coral Reef Ecosystem Spectro-Photometric Observatory,
proposed by the University of Hawaii, Kaneohe, would look at the
health of coral reefs around the world. By using spaceborne
spectral observations of the reefs, scientists hope to determine
how climate change may be affecting these vital contributors to
Earth’s health.

* CIRRUS, proposed by the University of Wisconsin, Madison,
would be an instrument flying aboard the International Space
Station to look at clouds and, in particular, cloud ice.
Understanding cloud ice will greatly enhance our understanding of
clouds and their role in the global climate system.

In addition to these four proposals, NASA will consider two
other meritorious proposals in the area of ocean height and wind
speed and direction, using highly innovative technologies. The
originators of those two proposals, from the University of Texas
at Austin and the University of Colorado, Boulder, will be
encouraged to work together to combine their mission concepts for
NASA consideration during the final selection process.

These missions are sponsored by NASA’s Office of Earth
Sciences in an effort dedicated to studying the long-term effects
of natural and human-induced changes on the Earth’s global