Understanding the complex, changing planet on which we live, how it supports life, and how human activities affect its ability to do so in the future is one of the greatest intellectual challenges facing humanity. It is also one of the most important challenges for society as it seeks to achieve prosperity, health, and sustainability.
These declarations, first made in the interim report of the Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space: A Community Assessment and Strategy for the Future,1 are the foundation of the committee’s vision for a decadal program of Earth-science research and applications in support of society—a vision that includes advances in fundamental understanding of the Earth system and increased application of this understanding to serve the nation and the people of the world. The declarations call for a renewal of the national commitment to a program of Earth observations in which attention to securing practical benefits for humankind play an equal role with the quest to acquire new knowledge about the Earth system.
The committee strongly reaffirms these declarations in the present report, which completes the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) response to a request from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Office of Earth Science, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Geography Division to generate consensus recommendations from the Earth and environmental science and applications communities regarding (1) high-priority flight missions and activities to support national needs for research and monitoring of the dynamic Earth system during the next decade, and (2) important directions that should influence planning for the decade beyond.2 The national strategy outlined here has as its overarching objective a program of scientific discovery and development of applications that will enhance economic competitiveness, protect life and property, and assist in the stewardship of the planet for this and future generations.