NASA Science Leading the World

This week at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, NASA scientists joined colleagues from around the world to report discoveries, discuss findings and advance knowledge about our Earth, sun, and the solar system. As always, NASA science was responsible for some of the major news coming out of the event — demonstrating once again our commitment to Earth and space science.

Earth Science remains a central priority for NASA, and we continue to operate and enhance the world’s leading fleet of Earth observation satellites to enable us to understand our planet and its changes and to ensure the long-term continuity of our data. We’ll be launching five new missions in calendar year 2014 and another six before 2021 to help us better understand our planet, predict and respond to natural disasters, and provide tools to help people around the world deepen and share their knowledge.

Among many findings discussed at AGU, scientists reported that they have discovered the coldest place on Earth. It’s a high ridge in Antarctica on the East Antarctic Plateau, where temperatures in several hollows can dip below minus 133.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 92 degrees Celsius) on a clear winter night. Scientists made the discovery while analyzing the most detailed global surface temperature maps to date, developed with data from remote sensing satellites including the new Landsat 8, a joint project of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The centerpiece of the agency’s planetary exploration program is our focus on Mars, undergirded by the President’s bold challenge to send humans to an asteroid in the next decade and to Mars by the 2030s. America’s track record of successful missions to Mars is unequaled and we intend to keep it that way.

The Curiosity rover has provided results that indicate Mars offered conditions favorable for supporting microbial life significantly later than the period that had been believed. The rover’s first 300 days of measurements of the natural radiation environment is also helping support our work to send humans to the Red Planet by the 2030s.

High above the planet, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed to scientists slender dark markings — possibly due to salty water – that advance seasonally down slopes surprisingly close to the Martian equator. Tracking how these features recur each year is one example of how the longevity of NASA orbiters observing Mars is providing insight about changes on many time scales. Farther afield, the Juno spacecraft, on its way to Jupiter, treated us to a rare vista of the Earth and the moon as they move in concert.

Science is critical to NASA’s future plans. Our exploration goals are integrated with our scientific work, and our science missions are helping provide the information that will help us understand our home planet, live and work in space for the long term and demonstrate technologies for future missions. Congratulations to all the scientists who presented at AGU. Their dedication and curiosity is inspiring us all and fueling our continued journey of discovery.