international space station

NASA recently announced a number of new initiatives meant to watch over our very own Earth. As the agency continues to juggle a number of Mars projects, NASA has plans for a total of five new missions—three satellites and two instruments mounted to the ISS—scheduled to go into orbit between February and November. The technology will be used to monitor the Earth's atmosphere, constantly taking measurements of carbon dioxide in the air, water in the soil, rainfall, ocean winds and cloud layers, providing near-immediate feedback readings for weather forecasts. This, in turn, will help give scientists better long-term climate projections. A recent report found that 2013 was among the hottest in 133 years.

Scientists say the missions will help reinvigorate and expand NASA's observing system, which has been hit by budget pressure, program delays and launch failures. The situation was becoming so dire that scientists considered Earth observation programs to be in "rapid decline." But now five new missions and instruments are set to get underway in 2014, with six more ready to launch by the end of the decade—those will measure dynamics of polar ice sheets and measure human use of water in aquifers, CNN said.

Three of the satellite launches will be spread out over 2014, with the first, the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory, set for a Feb. 27 launch; the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 is scheduled to launch in July, while the Soil Moisture Passive satellite is expected to take off in November. Meanwhile, SpaceX, which has successfully brought the International Space Station supplies in the past, will bring the instruments to the ISS sometime later this year. The new initiatives and instruments come just as the Obama administration decided to support the ISS through 2024, adding four years to the station's planned lifetime.