Earth Right Now — A Year of New Missions

Earth Science is crucial to NASA’s mission, and our discoveries about our home planet improve life here and help decision makers around the world become better environmental stewards.  For the first time in more than a decade, five NASA Earth science missions will be launched into space in the same year, providing new insights into our changing planet – and making 2014 “The Year of Earth.”

The five launches are part of an active year for NASA Earth science, which also includes airborne campaigns to the poles and hurricanes, development of advanced sensor technologies, and the use of satellite observations and data analysis tools to improve natural hazard and climate change preparedness.  As we prepare for future missions to an asteroid and Mars, our immediate focus for this year is on Earth.

NASA satellites, aircraft and research help scientists find answers to critical challenges facing our planet today and in the future, including climate change, sea level rise, freshwater resources and extreme weather events.

The launches coming up this year begin with Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) on Feb. 27 from Japan. That mission will set a new standard for precipitation measurements from space, providing observations of rain and snow worldwide several times a day.  This will be followed by ISS-RapidScat in June to measure ocean surface wind speed and direction and help improve weather forecasts, including hurricane monitoring.  Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, launching in July, will acquire precise measurements of atmospheric CO2.  ISS Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) in September will measure the location, composition and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, aerosols and other particulates in the atmosphere.  Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) in November will provide global measurements of soil moisture.  Later this year, we also begin the third year of science flights from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia of our Global Hawk unmanned aircraft to study hurricanes across the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

These diverse missions will join our unparalleled fleet of 16 Earth-observing satellites currently collecting valuable data to add to a long-term record of scientific information about our home planet, Earth.  Together, they form a coordinated series of satellite and airborne missions making long-term global observations of the land surface, biosphere, solid Earth, atmosphere and oceans.  This coordinated approach enables an improved understanding of Earth as an integrated system with many complex interactions.  These missions help build bridges of cooperation across the globe as observers on the ground share their insights and add them to space-based observations.  This also makes it possible for scientists across borders to share their findings about our Earth’s unified system.

We live in an era when our Earth-observing satellites circle the globe many times each day, gathering data in real time.  After having the privilege of flying shuttle missions and seeing Earth from the vantage point of space, I’ll never forget observing our fragile planet from above with no visible political borders, only those established by the oceans and mountains and other geography.  It’s a permanent reminder that our planet belongs to everyone, and we each have a responsibility to help protect it.

For NASA, that means making Earth science a priority investment.  Our efforts in this area sponsor research, collect new observations, develop technologies and extend science and technology education to learners of all ages.  It’s one of the cornerstones of our work, and I hope the entire NASA Family will join me in tracking the progress of these important missions and celebrating the greater knowledge of our planet they’ll make possible in 2014 – “The Year of Earth.”