Science: SARSAT's False Alarms

Aviation and maritime officials were elated when the U.S. last March launched a weather satellite carrying a search-and-rescue, or SARSAT, system. The satellite, working in a rare cooperative venture with two Soviet SARSATS, automatically picked up distress signals from downed aircraft and foundering ships and relayed them back to earth. The SOSs gave searchers quick navigational fixes so that help could be sent promptly to the accident sites. Rescue agencies are now discovering that there can be too much of a good thing: false alarms are flooding the SARSAT system.

In a single day, during their 18 passes over the U.S., the...

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