WASHINGTON -- For the second time in two years, a rocket glitch sent a NASA global warming satellite to the bottom of the sea Friday, a $424 million debacle that couldn't have come at a worse time for the space agency and its efforts to understand climate change.
Years of belt-tightening have left NASA's Earth-watching system in sorry shape, according to many scientists. And any money for new environmental satellites will have to survive budget-cutting, global warming politics and, now, doubts on Capitol Hill about the space agency's competence.
The Taurus XL rocket carrying NASA's Glory satellite lifted from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and plummeted to the southern Pacific several minutes later. The same thing happened to another climate-monitoring probe in 2009 with the same type of rocket, and engineers thought they had fixed the problem.