AIRS was launched on EOS Aqua on May 4, 2002, together with AMSU A and HSB, to form a next generation polar orbiting infrared and microwave atmospheric sounding system. The primary products of AIRS/AMSU/HSB are twice daily global fields of atmospheric temperature-humidity profiles, ozone profiles, sea/land surface skin temperature, and cloud related parameters including OLR. The sounding goals of AIRS are to produce 1 km tropospheric layer mean temperatures with an rms error of 1K, and 1 km tropospheric layer precipitable water with an rms error of 20%, in cases with up to 80% effective cloud cover. Pre-launch simulation studies indicated that these results should be achievable. Minor modifications have been made to the pre-launch retrieval algorithm as alluded to in this paper. Sample fields of parameters retrieved from AIRS/AMSU/HSB data are presented and temperature profiles are validated as a function of retrieved effective fractional cloud cover. As in simulation, the degradation of retrieval accuracy with increasing cloud cover is small. Select fields are also compared to those contained in the ECMWF analysis, done without the benefit of AIRS data, to demonstrate information that AIRS can add to that already contained in the ECMWF analysis. Assimilation of AIRS temperature soundings in up to 80% cloud cover for the month of January 2003 into the GSFC FVSSI data assimilation system resulted in improved 5 day forecasts globally, both with regard to anomaly correlation coefficients and the prediction of location and intensity of cyclones.