The most advanced weather satellite ever built rocketed into space Saturday night, part of an $11 billion effort to revolutionize forecasting and save lives. This new GOES-R spacecraft will track US weather as never before: hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, volcanic ash clouds, wildfires, lightning storms, even solar flares. Indeed, about 50 TV meteorologists from around the country converged on the launch site—including NBC's Al Roker—along with 8,000 space program workers and guests. "What's so exciting is that we're going to be getting more data, more often, much more detailed, higher resolution," Roker said, reports the AP. In the case of tornadoes, "if we can give people another 10, 15, 20 minutes, we're talking about lives being saved."
Airline passengers also stand to benefit, as do rocket launch teams. Improved forecasting will help pilots avoid bad weather and help rocket scientists know when to call off a launch. GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. The first was launched in 1975. The satellite—valued by NOAA at $1 billion—is aiming for a 22,300-mile-high equatorial orbit. There, it will join three aging spacecraft with 40-year-old technology, and become known as GOES-16. After months of testing, this newest satellite will take over for one of the older ones. The second satellite in the series will follow in 2018. All told, the series should stretch to 2036. Read more about the satellite here. (Read more weather stories.)