The future looks cloudy for the Landsat satellites that keep an eye on the Earth, with shutdown likely by the end of the month unless more money can be found.

Congress only provided enough money to run the system through the end of March and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration doesn't have any extra funds to keep them going, NOAA satellite director Thomas N. Pyke Jr., said Thursday.As a result, the contractor that runs the satellites for the government has been directed to begin shutting them down, Pyke said.

He said operation of the nation's weather satellites is not affected by the action. A Landsat satellite scheduled for launch in 1991 is not affected.

But Sen. Albert Gore Jr., D-Tenn., blamed the decision on the administration and called the funding halt "one of the most ridiculous policy decisions I have seen in 13 years of service in the House and Senate."

"At a time when we are trying to get more information about environmental change, the Bush administration is shutting down one of our best sources of information," said Gore, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space.

All Landsat services, including access to more than 2 million archive images of the planet, will cease March 15, the Earth Observation Satellite Company (EOSAT) announced.

"If this is carried to completion, near the end of this month they will actually pull the switch on these two satellites and place them on internal control," Pyke said. "Once that has been done it may not be possible to reestablish communications with these satellites."

In the meantime, however, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee has called a hearing for next Tuesday to look into ways of saving the satellite system.

"It makes absolutely no sense" to shut down the satellites, said Rep. George Brown, D-Calif., a committee member. He called on President Bush to intercede immediately by asking the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the departments of Defense and Agriculture to help fund the program.

EOSAT Vice President Peter M. P. Norris termed the threatened shutdown beyond belief. "The Landsat program provides important environmental data that touches on projects throughout the world," Norris said.

But, explained Pyke: "We have gone to the other federal agencies who make use of Landsat data and asked them if they can help with the continued funding of Landsat operations, but as of today we have received no additional funds from any source."