As the space shuttle program comes to a close, NASA will look to the future with robotic probes of other planets. Another major part of the space agency's mission will be to launch weather satellites to observe the Earth's always-changing weather patterns.
There are several satellites in orbit now that help scientists determine how and when weather will change on our planet.
The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) program has satellites that stay in one particular spot in orbit over the Earth. This system uses infrared and visual photographs of the Earth's atmosphere to help scientists spot incoming weather from over the oceans.
Another system of satellites is called the Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (POES) and are in polar orbits over the Earth. As such, satellites go over both the North and South Poles on a regular basis and take pictures and measurements.
Both satellite systems are run by the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration. Weather photos are downloaded to the NASA website on a regular basis for anyone to observe. Dozens of satellites are in orbit to help monitor weather from above the planet and give a bird's-eye view of atmospheric conditions.
A set of polar-orbiting satellites are preparing for launch in the near future. As a transition from older satellites to ones with newer sensing equipment, NASA will launch the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) to get ready for the next generation of climate-observing vehicles.
A series of environmental satellites will be used to detect climatological changes in the Earth. Earlier models involved two satellites called Terra and Aqua. The launch of the NPP satellite in late 2011 will provide a bridge until the launch of the Joint Polar Satellite System in 2015.
At 512 miles above the Earth , these satellites with also have polar orbits. Their main goal is to take pictures and measurements of the Earth's atmosphere in order to better understand climate change. The Earth Observing System (EOS) will also be able to measure ocean temperatures and will be able to view changes to land and ocean with more sensitive equipment and better technology than ever before.
Observing the Earth is one mission NASA has been developing since the mid-1960s with the launch of the Tiros and Nimbus series. When NASA focuses more on robotic and Earth science with the completion of the space shuttle program, weather satellites will be more important to the future of mankind on Earth.