It’s hot in New Mexico. Really hot! If you work outside, you don’t need the Weather Channel to tell you it’s hot. Even 10 years ago, refrigerated air was not as common as it is today. Better technologies have made it more affordable to have air conditioning.
In 2000, New Mexico State University was beginning to understand the value of having better technologies to improve weather prediction research capability. We needed this capability to offer more relevant education to students in the classroom, and also to the members of the farming, ranching, agriculture, tourism and aviation communities. But 10 years ago we could not offer programs to any of these potential user communities. Why not?
Weather satellites have been around for many years. We watched the news at night, we could see the weather maps. Yet, trying to predict the weather was like trying to predict the stock market: Even the professionals were not good at it. What has changed?
Many more people have learned how to use lots of satellite data and get it into the hands of consumers. We have learned how to write computer applications that take heat, moisture and wind data for Las Cruces, for example, and post those data on the Internet so the information can be downloaded onto an iPhone.
At the same time, that technology has helped to improve weather prediction in the process.
Look at weather satellite data on www.ghcc.msfc.nasa.gov/
You will see weather information for the entire U.S. East Coast. In order for a satellite to take a picture of the entire East Coast, it has to be far away. It would be the same if you wanted to take a picture of your entire house. You have to stand far enough away to get the entire house in the frame of the small camera you are holding your hand. The satellite taking pictures of the entire East Coast is part of a network of satellites operating 26,000 miles away.
Think about how the system works. This satellite has instruments that take pictures like our cameras do. If it sees the East Coast, you get a picture you recognize as the outline of the East Coast of the United States – from 26,000 miles away. Most people found this type of imagery uninteresting because it is hard to recognize any detail. And truthfully, early on, much of satellite imagery was not meant for you or I to use.
Fast forward to today, with websites like www.nasa.gov/
This site is configured to allow the viewer to watch hurricanes as they grow, change and move through the Gulf of Mexico. Years ago, you could not get this information on the web. Why not? Personal computers were not capable of processing these images because the applications for personal computers had not been written yet. And even if they were written, the Internet was not capable of delivering the images to millions of computers.
In his book, Megatrends 2000, John Naisbitt predicted that, because of information processing technologies, global economies would emerge and create a period of economic boom by the year 2000. In the first book Naisbitt wrote in 1980, he predicted the power of the “information age” as an irresistible force moving our globe toward a “high tech, high touch” civilization.
Translation: As our ability to process information improved, we would use this information to get “detail” or information we can use.
We have social networking, we have reality TV. We have applications for iPads and Blackberries that give us weather data and more detail about ourselves and others than we can possibly process. We have been through the information age, the economic boom of the first decade of the 21st century. What’s next?
While it is not possible to predict what the impact of increased access to space for humans will mean, increased access to information was impacted by increased access to space. Those of us who live here in southern New Mexico may become part of a new space-based economy – the commercial space economy. I will write more about commercial space in the future.
Right now, it is not rich people who are going to space from Spaceport America. Spaceport America is creating increased access to space for student experiments. Students and teachers are learning how to build instruments to collect data about the atmosphere above the spaceport.
I trust our future to our students. We are giving them access to information. The better the information, the better the decision. It is hot in Las Cruces, and it’s not just our weather.