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The Evolution of Weather Satellites

             The world of meteorology saw its greatest advances when man decided to travel into space. Over the last forty years, weather satellites have given us the ability to extend our capability to accurately forecast weather conditions. The use of low altitude, polar orbiting satellites to provide regional weather conditions coupled with the use of higher altitude, geostationary orbiting satellites to provide hemispheric conditions has enhanced the role of meteorology in everyone's lives. Additionally, the addition of ancillary systems such as the Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Rescuing System have made the weather satellite system an invaluable tool in saving an innumerable number of lives. The United States is not the only country with satellites in space. Most advanced nations have seen the value of geostationary weather satellite systems.
             The Beginnings of Satellites.
             The United States lost the first battle of the space race when the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik I, the first earth orbiting satellite on October 4, 1957. This first satellite weighed only 183 pounds and was the size of a basketball. The elliptical orbit of Sputnik around the Earth took only 98 minutes to complete.
             The basis for the space race actually began in 1952, when the International Council of Scientific Unions decided to establish July 1957 through June 1958 as the International Geophysical Year (IGY). In October 1954 this council adopted a resolution calling for artificial satellites to map the Earth's surface during the IGY.
             The United States Government decided to launch an earth orbiting satellite and asked various government agencies to undertake development. But, before the United States could launch its three and one-half pound Vanguard satellite, the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik I and Sputnik II.
             The tide changed with the United States" launch of Explorer I on January 31, 1958. This satellite carried a small scientific payload that led to the discovery of the Van Allen Belt, the magnetic radiation belts which surround the Earth.

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