Every planet changes. To document these changes and what we know about them across millennia is the goal of some of our flagship missions at Mars, Jupiter and elsewhere through our solar system.
Our own planet is another story. Because we live here, those changes in our landscape take on a more urgent, vital concern. Documenting our home from many angles and wavelengths are a fleet of Earth observation satellites operated by many nations as well as commercial entities. NASA and its agency partners help manage an incredible array of these assets.
Now we are targeting Landsat 9 for launch Sept. 27. It carries on a grand tradition that for nearly 50 years has generated a data record of our planet and its changing land, and the imprints that natural disasters and climate change have made visible from space. The world has never seen anything like the Landsat missions before. The continuity of measurements they have provided is an invaluable global asset free to all that helps us understand the very place we live – not just our continent or our nation, but our region and our city and local environment.
Begun in the early days of the 1970s during a time of heightened awareness of threats to our environment, Landsat has continued to remain relevant today. These missions help us see where the place we live – the land we depend on for survival on this ocean world – continues to evolve. We can see the decades of recovery from the Mt. St. Helens eruption, or the effects of fires that raged across the Amazon recently.
Thanks to Landsat we can see how urbanization has changed over two generations. How crops have shifted and where they are grown and how well they’re doing. And how much of our precious water there is to grow them. Wildfires. Hurricanes. Extreme weather of all sorts. We can help see what’s happened and how the environment recovers.
The Landsat missions have had perhaps more impact on peoples’ daily lives than any other Earth observation mission. They’ve had huge economic impact and are the crown jewels in our Earth fleet.
Together with our Landsat partners at the U.S. Geological Survey, we have surveyed our planet rigorously and continuously and stored and shared that information. The earliest geological surveyors plodded across massive landscapes barely scraped by human eyes and now we image the entire Earth in around two days by teaming up with the Landsat 8 satellite we’ll be working with on orbit, and a Sentinel satellite from ESA. Scientists who were not born when Landsat first began to study our planet now look forward to carrying its tradition forward.
Just imagine — at every point in our planet’s life over the past 50 years, Landsat was working hard to help us see our world. Through wars and famines and droughts and storms and manmade events. The data Landsat provides helps us understand how to live better together on the ground. End users of its data are people like farmers and disaster preparedness staff, urban planners, crop managers and food sustainability professionals. And the artists and creative among us who see how an image of a river delta can also be a tree, and about the beauty in the processes constantly shaping our changing planet. #LandsatArt
So join us Sept. 27 at 11:12a.m. PT for the launch of Landsat 9 on nasa.gov/live. Or join our Facebook event page for behind the scenes tours. And please join the global #Landsat conversation about how we study our planet and how that matters to us all.
I visited Europe this past week, from France, to Switzerland and then Spain. It was my first international trip across the Atlantic since the beginning of COVID, the longest time I have ever been away from Europe and Switzerland since I left in 1996 to build a new life on the other side of the Atlantic.
I really missed traveling. No, I do not particularly like sleeping on planes – I am too tall for the seats they build. Sitting there with a mask makes it less comfortable still. And I feel like a small part of my brain was pulled out on numerous swabs used for COVID tests. But it remains important to travel safely and I will do what it takes to protect me and others.
I still admire those flying machines that lift us above the clouds into the sky, and toward distant shores. I recall how long a boat trip would have taken in ancient times for the same trip. And, I think of the interplay of the incredible technologies associated with the first A in NASA – aeronautics.
There are few technologies and industries that bring people together more, and create understanding or even friendships where they seemed elusive at first. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”, said Mark Twain, and that still holds true today.
There were many highlights on this trip – here are just a few.
I enjoyed visiting my friend and colleague, European Space Agency Science Director, Günther Hasinger. This was my first trip to Madrid and I loved it. We spent a day and aligned our programs in ways many phone and Zoom calls cannot. I will never forget our dinner together with wine, cheese and Spanish charcuterie under the Spanish night sky.
I gave a talk at the Swiss Economic Forum aligned with thier conference theme “New Horizons”. It allowed me to spread what we do at NASA to a broad audience. This mission is still the stuff of dreams. One cannot give a talk about new horizons, without talking about Pluto.
My talk was focused on the new horizons we have when exploring the universe – moving the boundary of ignorance back as fast as we know how. And it is about the important of new horizons and unprecedented and urgent collaborations as we focus on our own planet, the Earth, the most beautiful planet we have ever known. The talk was given in (somewhat broken) German. Check it out at this link.
This long awaited trip reminded me of the international and worldwide character NASA Science really does have. Whether it is visiting the company, Maxon, that built electric motors for the Ingenuity helicopter and that enable Perseverance’s sample acquisition, or the international partners in France who helped build the seismology instrument on Mars now, the best science is done when we do it together, with transparency and trust. I am proud of NASA for its aspirational goal to be the favorite and most reliable collaborator to countries around the globe seeking to explore space. For us at NASA, leadership and partnership is and remains linked, as we have a critical role in efforts of US diplomacy worldwide. We have trusted friends in so many countries, friends we look forward to seeing in person as soon as it is feasible and safe!
As the COVID-19 pandemic began to rage last year, I thought about how NASA could marshal its resources to help benefit people worldwide. We know that Earth observations provide us with a satellite view of our home planet and offer a unique perspective on any number of macro changes happening here on Earth. So together with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), we combined resources to strengthen our understanding of the effects of the global pandemic. As a result, we unveiled the Earth Observing Dashboard in June 2020. I am really proud of this effort because the dashboard offers the public access to an array of COVID-related Earth observation data captured by the three space agencies. It allows anyone to see, from a satellite-view, the effects that COVID-19 is having on our economies, our environment, shipping patterns and more around the globe.
June 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the dashboard’s creation. We thought a great way to commemorate the occasion would be to host a global hackathon and invite participants to tackle challenges related to the intriguing data contained in the dashboard. If you’ve ever been curious about how people’s shopping behaviors changed during COVID, or how the lockdown orders affected carbon dioxide levels or water quality, check out the dashboard. If you’re interested in solving challenges using this data or helping to improve the dashboard itself, we would welcome your participation in the Earth Observation Dashboard Hackathon from June 23-29, 2021.
To give you some examples, the dashboard includes a nighttime lights indicator derived from the Suomi-NPP Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), which shows how the pandemic lockdown measures affected businesses, highways, and nightlife by revealing changes in light activity at night by tracking changes in energy use, migration and transportation activity patterns.
Second, when the pandemic impacted the ability of governments to perform in-person field surveys to monitor the progress of food crops, Earth observation-based data used for the Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative (GEOGLAM) Global Crop Monitor provided evidence and reassurance that the food supply was adequate from afar.
Also, some parts of the world are currently experiencing lockdowns due to the second wave of COVID-19. The dashboard shows human activity slowdown (SAR Proxy maps) and a similar environmental response (NO2) to the second lockdown as the first one. Data collected and carefully curated for these waves of COVID-19 periods could provide further insights into environmental responses and economic impacts.
As countries continue to battle COVID-19, I am proud that the dashboard can be a tool that enables people and governments to better understand how the pandemic is affecting our world. I hope that seeing the impacts of COVID from such a vantage point can help spur innovation and spark new ideas. I hope you will join us for the hackathon!
More so than ever, our Science Mission Directorate (SMD) websites are the front-door to our worldwide community of enthusiasts and learners. Upon an in-depth analysis of our web presence, I believe it is time for us to elevate the way we communicate and enhance the breadth of our audiences using a focused approach on great content, and best-in-class optimization techniques. As will all of our communication activities, we will do this as one team, and driven by the desire to enhance the impact and inspiration of our science throughout. This is a core-element of our NASA Science strategy, which focuses deliberately on inspiration and communication.
Soon after being established, NASA was directed by the U.S. Congress to “provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof.” NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) has an extensive public web presence, from the flagship website https://science.nasa.gov to mission-specific sites to topic-based websites. As sources from which people get their information change, NASA Science must continue to ensure its message is easy to find, available to all, leveraged, and managed per federal and Agency policies and procedures.
For NASA Science, we deeply care about communicating in audience-appropriate language and enabling science enthusiasts and learners of all ages to actively participate in science. Among the several types of opportunities for such engagements are exciting research, student collaborations, challenges, citizen science, science activation projects, and others. Disseminating such information is key and with the expectations for digital content being raised every more, NASA Science must embrace these changes and modernize our web presence to reach the widest possible audience and share our message.
Recently, our social media presence went through a major refresh, with a more focused and aligned effort that resulted in higher followership for these accounts and broader engagement. It has been a great success thus far with enhanced visibility for our project, new audiences we gained as a result of it, and larger user engagements per post than before. And we are still learning to improve and elevate the game. Now, we plan to do the same for our web presence.
As part of an agency-wide modernization and consolidation of NASA websites, SMD will unify its public engagement websites under a newly designed and freshly built https://science.nasa.gov, consistent with social themes. Sites in scope of this effort include those with the extension *.nasa.gov in their URL which are mostly funded by SMD. Types of websites include public engagement deep dive sites, programmatic sites, and science sites for kids. Websites that are not part of this current consolidation include those sites whose main purpose is to serve data to the science community (we will address these at a later date), sites that are hosted at partner institutions (i.e. hubblesite.org), and sites where SMD is just one of the funding sources. This strategic approach will enhance user experience and allow NASA Science and its broad impact on society to be seen and appreciated by more. The main goals will be to:
- be an example of excellence in public trust in science exploration, discovery, and knowledge
- timely, secure, accurate, and audience-focused dissemination of NASA Science content
- ensure that top entities – person, place, thing – never compete with each other, but instead enhance each other
- ensure site owners have a robust platform and tools they need to innovate and share development using a “One Team” approach
- improve search rankings and search engine optimization (SEO)
- build a robust multimedia database capable of housing all the media NASA Science produces, including spacecraft raw images, data-driven interactives and large-file videos.
- ensure the site is responsive and functions well on devices of varying sizes (i.e. cell phone, tablet, laptops, desktop, and what may show up next as technology changes)
- design a site that exceeds the Section 508 requirements and provides a truly accessible experience for the widest audience possible
Rest assured, there will be flexibility built into this process. In particular, we want to encourage content owners to pitch new tools, content, etc., and build them out on science.nasa.gov, as appropriate. We need all of our experts and our engaged champions to help shape the end state.
Soon, you will see these efforts taking shape across our websites – we do not want to drag this out. We recognize, of course, that this process will take significant effort and will take many months to complete. As we proceed, remember that having great content is an important starting point of a great site. However, equally important is ensuring people can find our content.
As mentioned before, this SMD-wide effort has one sole purpose – we all deeply care about communicating the value and excitement of science, and to do so by setting a new standard of excellence for science websites. And we can only be successful achieving this audacious goal by working together as one team!
Thanks for being part of this worthwhile effort!
It happened again this past weekend. I was excited about my refreshing spring run, the bird songs, the beautiful flowers, and I remembered how much she loves spring. I wanted to tell her I am thinking of her. I was reaching for the phone. And then I suddenly remembered that my mother is no longer with us.
I still read her loving messages she sent me from her iPad – a skill she insisted she would never learn, then struggled with, and eventually mastered. This is how she watched me when I was on TV. This is how she read most news about me and the whole word.
She had a whole book of clippings of news articles about me – I never knew that until the very end. And it surprised me because I had sensed little interest in my work before. Obviously, I had been wrong.
I have been thinking a lot about the 500,000+ US families and millions worldwide and the tens of millions of children and friends whose lives will not be the same anymore, changed by COVID. I think about the grandparent who left prematurely, the mothers who will never be grandmothers, the Holocaust survivors whose stories died with them, those who were freedom fighters, the courageous immigrants who were finally brought down.
I received my second vaccine a few days ago. I am deeply grateful for the scientists and those who helped produce this vaccine in record time. I am happy and hopeful that we can soon wake up from this nightmare we have been in for over a year.
And when this is part of the past, let’s not forget that the scars from this will be a reality for millions of families for years. They too will have gaping holes in their lives they struggle with. And they too will need time to heal and learn what it means to have fewer people on Earth who truly love them. They too will need help.
My condolences and thoughts to all of you who lost loved ones this past year! May you feel the love and friendship in your lives and may you have the courage to ask for help when needed!
P.S.: Check out this 80s song I re-discovered recently. I really needed help when it came out in as I feared I had lost my family forever, and it therefore spoke to me then. It again speaks to me today as we all need to learn to ask for help and learn to listen to others when they need help. Most don’t do it as beautifully as Tina Turner: https://youtu.be/4cro7kZKG2c