18 April 2002
April 12, 2002
Military Uses NASA Images in Combat
News-Journal wire services
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The Navy has been using NASA satellite data to help guide ships and planes in the war in Afghanistan, marking the first time the military has employed the space agency's up-to-date information in combat, Navy officials said Thursday.
Some in Congress have expressed concerns that NASA risks overstepping its 44-year-old civilian charter, though military planners say the images they have been using are unclassified.
That information is available to ``anyone and everyone,'' including a host of federal agencies and foreign governments, said NASA spokesman David Steitz. He said NASA has no qualms about the military's use of the images, which was first reported this week in Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine.
``Our nation's at war. We're part of the federal government,'' Steitz said. ``If that helps save American lives, great.''
The military used NASA satellite images in the Gulf War, but that information was archived, not recent.
In Afghanistan, the images have been especially helpful in spotting swirling clouds of dust that cause hazardous conditions for U.S. pilots and ships involved in the battle, Navy officials said.
In October, the imagery helped commanders steer carrier battle groups out of dust storms in the Arabian Sea that had limited visibility to three feet. The satellite data is also being used to study weather conditions that could hamper laser- or optically guided weapons.
Sean O'Keefe, NASA's new administrator, appointed by President Bush, has called for closer ties with the Pentagon since he took over the post earlier this year.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the committee that funds NASA, has expressed reservations about the growing cooperation between the military and the space agency.
``We've got to be very careful about the historic firewall between military space and civilian space,'' she told O'Keefe during a joint visit at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland earlier this year.
She added, however, that she does not have a problem with the Pentagon's use of NASA's unclassified data.
Others in Congress supported the project.
``All Americans and civilian agencies are being asked to do their part to help in the war effort,'' said Rep. Dave Weldon, whose district includes the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. ``I commend the administration in employing NASA and any and all capabilities of the federal government to win this war on terrorism.''
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