In the wee hours of the morning Tuesday, NASA attempted to launch an experimental mission to save the earth with the smallest rocket it currently has in use. The initial launch failed when the module did not separate from the rocket. But eventually, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory will use a spectrometer to take the most precise measurements ever made of carbon dioxide concentrations and “sinks” in the Earth’s atmosphere, and answer some lingering questions about exactly how much carbon is absorbed by our fields, forests and oceans. About 30% of human contributions to the CO2 load are unaccounted for by current models.
NASA is working closely with Japan, which launched its own carbon observatory last month. The OCO will yield 8-million carbon dioxide measurements every 16 days, far improving over current measurements.