3.3 TIROS Origins: How Military and Civilian Organizations Contributed to the First Weather Satellite System

Monday, 13 January 2020: 2:30 PM
253B (Boston Convention and Exhibition Center)
Angelina L Callahan, NRL, Washington, DC; and G. Dittberner and T. Vonder Haar

TIROS (Television Infrared Observation Satellite), the U.S.’s first operational weather satellite, was launched a mere 30 months into the Cold War space race. The U.S. weather satellite series quickly became a hallmark success story for NASA— in spacecraft engineering as well as its mandate to coordinate international scientific collaboration.

Based on archival research of overlapping scientific communities— including the Weather Bureau, Army Signal Corps, Naval Research Laboratory, National Academies of Sciences, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — and scientific publications, this talk will explain how TIROS and other first generation satellites were products of more than a decade of piecemeal space research and prototyping.

Tracing the origins of TIROS’s component parts, we learn that between 1945 and 1959, researchers in the armed services labs, universities, and industry used the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel and later the International Geophysical Year to coordinate scarce space science resources.

Immediately after the 1957 launch of Sputnik, members of these communities became important voices helping shape science policy—advising both the executive and legislative branches that space “stunts” and spectaculars might divert resources from what the U.S space community actually needed: more federal support for long-range scientific research to the benefit of both national prestige and national security.

TIROS’s prehistory reveals how when ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) and NASA were formed in 1958, they presented an important opportunity to reinvigorate scientific and applications projects that predated Sputnik, but lacked dedicated funding structures.

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