Aquarius satellite launches today, will measure ocean salinity from space

Eilieen Gunn writes,

If all goes well, the Aquarius satellite, which will map the salinity of the oceans, collecting more data in a couple of months than is contained in the entire 125-year historical record, will launch this morning (Friday. June 10) at 7:20 am, PDT. (That's 10:20 am EDT and 2:20 pm GMT.)

I will watch, because this is more than just another great launch, another extension of the human mind and eye into the cosmos. This one is personal.

For more than thirty years, my brother, John Gunn, has measured and analyzed ocean currents and the salinity and temperature that contribute to their function and variability. He has thrown current meters into Arctic and Antarctic waters from small vessels in frigid temperatures, recovered the meters, and analyzed the data. He has spent months in a submarine beneath the polar icecap–back when we had a permanent icecap–collecting data about how the seas function.

For the past eight years, he has worked as part of a large international project involving teams of researchers from NASA, JPL, and Argentina's Comisipn Nacional de Actividades Espaciales to launch the satellite that will, he hopes, go up this morning. This is what he wrote to his family about it:

'The launch is taking place at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California no earlier than 7:20am Pacific time (10:20 Eastern). It can be seen on NASA TV and as streaming video on the Internet. Weather at the launch site can be foggy in June, so there may be limited (or no) visibility, but there will be a lot of views of anxious people in the control room. There is always a possibility of a delay and the launch window is only five minutes. If we miss that we have to go another day. Check the countdown timer at Video coverage begins at 5:30 PDT and lasts until about 9am PDT.'

He adds, 'After the launch there are a couple critical points. After the rocket leaves the atmosphere the cowling around the satellite breaks away. If this doesn't happen, the rocket doesn't make orbit but makes a big splash near Antarctica. As the rocket passes the south pole and approaches South Africa it drops the rocket body, again very important.'

Aquarius will provide the essential sea-surface salinity data needed to link the two major components of the climate system: the water cycle and ocean circulation. There is a great overview of the purpose of the mission on the NASA Aquarius site. My brother is part of the team from Earth & Space Research, one of the many teams that made this complex project possible.

Be there or be square.

NASA: Aquarius Mission Web Site

(Thanks, Eileen!)