Vice President Al Gore, in a speech at MIT last Friday, challenged NASA to build a new satellite that would provide continuous, live images of the Earth from space.
The 330-pound, 175-watt small satellite ("Smallsat") to be developed and launched in two years would provide a view of the planet that would be available, via the Internet, to students, teachers, weather experts and the general public, Mr. Gore said.
"The first sailor on Christopher Columbus' ship, the Pinta, was named Triana. This satellite would be named for him," Mr. Gore told about 150 leaders of industry, government, labor and higher education gathered in the Tang Center for the first National Innovation Summit.
Mr. Gore delivered the keynote address at the summit, held at MIT March 12-13 and sponsored by the Council on Competitiveness, a coalition of industry, academia and government representatives aimed at ensuring U.S. competitiveness in a global marketplace.
By 2000, the satellite would continuously transmit a sun-lit view of the entire planet to three ground stations at universities around the globe.
Providing "a clearer view of our own world," the satellite would bring us to the digital age from the famous "Blue Marble" picture taken in 1972 from Apollo 17, which Mr. Gore said launched a new era of global awareness of the fragility of the planet.
The satellite would orbit from a point where the gravitational pull of the Earth and the Sun cancel each other out, he said. The satellite's pictures would provide views of changing clouds, developing hurricanes, forest fires and other phenomena as they occur.
On US competitiveness, Mr. Gore said that while the US economy is soaring and the federal budget is close to being balanced, "we must do everything we can to keep growth and innovation high and creativity strong."
He said it can take time for a new technology to result in a surge in productivity. "When we started providing seed money for the Internet from Congress, there was no enthusiasm in the business community for it. It was not relevant to the way business operated at the time," Mr. Gore said.
"Today's technology is allowing us to unlock creativity. If we want to fulfill its promise, we must reward cutting-edge ideas and take advantage of them as quickly as possible."
Mr. Gore said the Clinton administration is proposing a "21st-century research fund" that would result in large increases in spending for basic research. It's the government's reponsibility to fund basic research, he said, because "private enterprise has to concentrate on research that has more immediate applications." The plan also calls for tax credits to critical industries that could free up funding for private research and development.
The current administration is particularly interested in fostering the growth and development of the Internet and electronic commerce in particular. "Every computer can be a window open to every company in the world," he said.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 18, 1998.