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Atmospheric Science at NASA

, 416 pages

8 color illus., 19 b&w illus., 3 line drawings

November 2008



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Atmospheric Science at NASA

A History

Honorable Mention, 2008 ASLI Choice Awards. Atmospheric Science Librarians International

Open Access Edition Available at Project MUSE

This book offers an informed and revealing account of NASA’s involvement in the scientific understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Since the nineteenth century, scientists have attempted to understand the complex processes of the Earth’s atmosphere and the weather created within it. This effort has evolved with the development of new technologies—from the first instrument-equipped weather balloons to multibillion-dollar meteorological satellite and planetary science programs.

Erik M. Conway chronicles the history of atmospheric science at NASA, tracing the story from its beginnings in 1958, the International Geophysical Year, through to the present, focusing on NASA’s programs and research in meteorology, stratospheric ozone depletion, and planetary climates and global warming. But the story is not only a scientific one. NASA’s researchers operated within an often politically contentious environment. Although environmental issues garnered strong public and political support in the 1970s, the following decades saw increased opposition to environmentalism as a threat to free market capitalism.

Atmospheric Science at NASA critically examines this politically controversial science, dissecting the often convoluted roles, motives, and relationships of the various institutional actors involved—among them NASA, congressional appropriation committees, government weather and climate bureaus, and the military.

Erik M. Conway is a historian at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, and author of High-Speed Dreams: NASA and the Technopolitics of Supersonic Transportation, 1945–1999 and Blind Landings: Low-Visibility Operations in American Aviation, 1918–1958, also published by Johns Hopkins.

"The author does an excellent job of telling this story—translating the science into prose, characterizing the various personalities and institutions, organizing the convoluted tale into a narrative, and assessing interactions of multifarious factors. The work... will stand as a significant contribution to the literature. Much of the story has not yet been told, or if it has, certainly not in this detail or scope. It is likely to rank high in the top score or so of books devoted to the history of space science."

"Comprehensive history... recommended."

"As one of the latest books in the New Series in NASA History, Conway's project introduces a new aspect of space science that will be of interest to scholars of this field."