A Mission Close to Home

Despite complaints about a $30 billion price tag, NASA launches a vital program to take the planet's pulse

America's space program has spent billions of dollars and years of effort to produce detailed studies of the clouds of Venus and the craters of Mars. But in the future, NASA's researchers will need to pay closer attention to their home planet. As the earth's air, land and seas become ever more threatened by human overpopulation and industrial pollution, measuring the extent of the damage has become one of the most urgent missions of science.

This week the space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to deploy the first satellite in the Mission to Planet Earth, an ambitious, long-range program to monitor the...

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