Climate-Tracker Satellite Crashes During Launch

A NASA satellite that was supposed to study aspects of climate change crashed into the Pacific Ocean shortly after liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Friday. It's the second science satellite to have such a failure in the past two years.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A NASA satellite designed to study global warming crashed into the Pacific Ocean this morning. It happened shortly after it was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This is the second failure of a climate-satellite launch in two years, as we hear from NPR's Richard Harris.

RICHARD HARRIS: The Glory satellite had a three-year mission to probe two important questions relating to climate change. First, it was going to peer down on the earth and study tiny particles in the atmosphere, aerosols. These generally cool the planet and help counteract some of the warming caused by greenhouse gases. Glory was also going to look upward, toward the sun, to measure small changes in its brightness.

But the rocket that was carrying Glory toward orbit this morning failed to release the satellite properly. Program scientist Hal Maring says the satellite apparently plunged into the ocean around Antarctica.

Dr. HAL MARING (NASA): While this is a significant loss, we do have 13 fully-operating satellite missions in Earth science right now. So it isn't like we've come to a screeching halt.

HARRIS: But the failure is similar to what happened last time NASA tried to get a climate satellite into orbit. A carbon-dioxide observatory also ended up in the ocean in 2009. Maring says there's no backup satellite for Glory, so if they still want to do the mission, they'll have to start from scratch.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

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