A new generation of Earth science -- one that studies the Earth's land, oceans, air, ice and life as a total global system -- began with a picture perfect launch this afternoon of the "Terra" spacecraft from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Formerly known as "EOS AM-1," the Terra spacecraft lifted off at 1:57 p.m. EST on an Atlas IIAS rocket.
The liftoff took place at the very end of the 25 minute launch window to give officials time to analyze and verify wind direction and speed at the time of liftoff to allow the Atlas launch vehicle to safely steer the vehicle through upper level winds encountered during its climb to orbit.
Terra is the "flagship" to the Earth Observing System series of satellites, part of a precedent setting program designed to provide information on the health of the Planet, and an understanding of its complex interactions in a manner that has scientists on the edge of their seat.
Just fourteen minutes after liftoff, the Terra satellite separated from the Atlas rocket's second stage. Terra's flight computer and control subsystem quickly oriented the spacecraft so that Terra's instrument suite tracks the Earth, a task it will laboriously perform over the next six years. The flight computer immediately moved on to the complex task of deploying Terra's state-of-the-art gallium arsenide solar array. When Terra's Power System Manager made the call, "Š solar array deployment complete," the focused Terra Control Center atmosphere erupted in cheers.
"We're extremely pleased with the launch," said Kevin Grady, Terra Project Manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "The spacecraft is in good shape with all systems performing nominally. The mission is right on plan."
The next several days will be spent activating spacecraft subsystems and initiating some of the preliminary instrument activation sequences. Later in January, flight controllers will begin the detailed checkout of the Terra instruments in preparation of the first science data images.
The Terra satellite was built by Lockheed Martin, and assembled and tested at its spacecraft production facility in Valley Forge, Pa. The Terra Project is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
The primary objective of the Terra Mission is to simultaneously study clouds, water vapor, small particles in the atmosphere (called "aerosol" particles), trace gases, land surface and oceanic properties, as well as the interaction between them and their effect on the Earth's energy budget and climate.
Terra is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center for NASA's Office of Earth Science, Washington, DC. A goal of the Earth Science Enterprise is to expand mankind's knowledge of the Earth System from the unique vantage point of space. Earth Science Enterprise data, which will be distributed to researchers worldwide at the cost of reproduction, will be revolutionary in unlocking the secrets of the complex planet which we inhabit, and will be invaluable to people making informed decisions about their environment.
The next Terra status report will be issued on Dec. 21, 1999.
More information on Terra also is available via the Internet at: http://terra.nasa.gov/
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