The first weather satellite launched on April 1, 1960, 60 years ago. In this feature on Science Weekend from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the five things that changed weather forecasting forever are discussed by some of the pioneers in the field.
NASA describes this special feature as follows.
Our ability to predict the weather, though still imperfect, would astound our ancestors. And decades of improvements in weather satellite technology, driven by teams of fiercely dedicated scientists and engineers, have made that possible.
In this video, we talk to some of the pioneers in the field who were behind advances in that technology, advances that now inform our planning and daily commutes, but also farming, construction projects, military strategy, disaster response and travel by air and sea. We also talk to scientists who are working on today’s weather satellites and instruments, like those in the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) series. This video tells the story of our nation’s weather satellites by highlighting some of the paradigm-shifting moments that shaped their rich history.
Watch the 5 things that changed weather forecasting forever
The Television Infra-Red Observation Satellite Program
On April 1, 1960, NASA launched the Television Infra-Red Observation Satellite (TIROS-1), the world’s first successful weather satellite. Weighing approximately 270 pounds and carrying two TV cameras and two video recorders, the satellite provided weather forecasters their first ever view of cloud formations as they developed around the globe.
TIROS-1 orbited 450 miles above Earth and communicated with two command and data acquisition stations. When the satellite was in range of a station and the data was read out, the images (up to 32 could be recorded for playback) were recorded on 35-mm film for making prints.
Although the satellite operated for only 78 days, TIROS-1 sent back 19,389 usable pictures, proving the worth of weather observing satellites to the world and opening the door for the weather systems of the future. The first image from the satellite was a fuzzy picture of thick bands and clusters of clouds over the United States. An image captured a few days later revealed a typhoon about a 1,000 miles east of Australia.
The TIROS programs continues to this day and includes the NOAA-20 (JPSS-1) satellite which was launched on November 18, 2017. The satellite includes an interferometer as part of Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) instrument and was developed by ABB Canada in Quebec City.