Senate Committee Discusses Controversial Satellite

Congress is investigating problems in U.S. weather satellites used to track hurricanes. From Capitol Hill, Ben Tabor has the story.

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At a congressional hearing, Florida Senator Bill Nelson said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cut plans to include sensors on a new fleet of weather satellites that would provide Texas coastal communities advance warning of developing storms.

"So without these sensors, this new generation is going to be unable to measure certain properties important to hurricane forecasting."

Government investigators also testified that NOAA went $6 billion over its project budget and is behind schedule. The head of the National Hurricane Center in Miami was fired this week in a dispute over replacing these satellites.

Dr. Antonio Busalacchi, a climate science expert told Congress that NOAA's mismanagement of the satellite program will damage international efforts to track and predict dangerous weather.

"To abuse the words of Neil Armstrong, right now we are taking one giant leap backwards for mankind."

NOAA officials said the satellite is fine and that storm-chasing aircraft will fill in if it fails. The soonest a replacement satellite could be launched is 2013.Nelson says he wants federal officials to return to explain how they'll resolve the problem.

For Houston Public Radio, I'm Ben Tabor on Capitol Hill.