Celebrating Earth Day

Observations of our home planet – and improving life on it for every resident – have always been at the core of NASA’s mission, and this year we’ll demonstrate that in multiple ways with a remarkable five Earth science launches.

NASA ventures into space not only to explore beyond Earth – we also venture into space to get to know Earth better.  It’s only from space that we really get to understand our home planet.

In 2014, for the first time in more than a decade, five NASA Earth Science missions will be launched into space in one year.  Together with NASA’s existing fleet of satellites, airborne missions, and researchers, these new missions will help answer some of the critical challenges facing our planet today and in the future: climate change; sea level rise; access to freshwater resources; and extreme weather events.

These new missions highlight NASA’s role as an innovation leader in Earth and climate science.  They’re helping us build a constantly expanding view of our planet from space and are backed by an exceptional team of experts and decades of innovative scientific and technical research.

Back in February, we successfully launched the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory with Japan’s space agency.  GPM inaugurates an unprecedented international satellite constellation to produce frequent global observations of rainfall and snowfall — revolutionary new data that will help answer questions about our planet’s life-sustaining water cycle and improve weather forecasting and water resource management.

With the launch of two Earth science instruments to the International Space Station scheduled for this year — RapidScat and CATS — NASA will for the first time use our unique orbiting laboratory as a 24/7 Earth-observing platform to collect critical information about ocean winds, clouds, and aerosol particles for climate research, weather forecasting, and hurricane monitoring.

Advances in understanding carbon dioxide’s role in climate change are expected after NASA returns the Orbiting Carbon Observatory to flight in July after a 2009 launch failure.  OCO-2 will map the greenhouse gas globally, providing new insights into where and how it moves into and out of the atmosphere.

On a water planet like Earth, “following the water” is a massive undertaking but one that is essential to predicting the future of our climate and the availability of water resources around the globe.  With the launch of the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission this year, NASA will track water into one of its last hiding places: Earth’s soil.  Coupled with GPM and the NASA Aquarius instrument measuring sea-surface salinity and the GRACE mission, which can detect changes in underground aquifers, we will have unprecedented measurements of our planet’s vital water cycle.

In 2014 NASA also wraps up a three-year campaign to study Atlantic hurricanes with unmanned aircraft and advances the development of a new satellite constellation — CYGNSS, to launch in 2016 — to probe these storms worldwide with GPS signals.

Climate change is the challenge of our generation, and NASA is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of documenting and understanding these changes, predicting the ramifications, and sharing information about these changes for the benefit of society.

But beyond hard data, our Earth science missions help us appreciate our planet as the beautiful, fragile oasis it is.  From the Station we are fortunate to be able to really see and appreciate Earth as a beautiful and dynamic world worth protecting.  From our science satellites, we get a full and rich picture of how our planet works.

With the new tools we’re sending to space this year, NASA gives the world a better view of our planet.  Our new satellites and instruments aboard the Station join an already incredible fleet of Earth observation satellites examining ocean temperatures and salinity, changes in land cover and the atmosphere, climate change and many other factors that affect us all.

NASA research yields down-to-earth benefits such as improved environmental prediction, preparing for natural hazards, and anticipating the impacts of climate change.

You can be sure that we will continue to share this knowledge with the world to improve and protect life here on Earth.  I’d say that’s a perfect way to celebrate Earth Day, every day.