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From Outer Space to Climate Action: How NASA's Chief Scientist is Inspiring the Next Generation

Scott Kelly/NASA The breaking of dawn over planet Earth, seen from the International Space Station.

On International Mother Earth Day, NASA’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Katherine Calvin, shared how studying the Earth from outer space has driven generations to advance climate action. Dr. Calvin advises NASA leadership on its science programs and related strategic planning and investments. As its senior climate advisor, she provides insights and recommendations for related science, technology, and infrastructure projects for climate action, from developing a new instrument to track pollution hourly to launching a water-tracking satellite.

One of the most fascinating aspects of space exploration is how it inspires the next generation of scientists and engineers to help tackle challenges on Earth or in space. We learn about the ozone effect and greenhouse gas effect by studying Venus, and apply that to our understanding here on Earth. Space also provides the opportunity for technology and innovation. As scientists are living and working in space, we develop technologies that can help us here on Earth with sustainability issues.

There’s a ton we can learn both about other planetary bodies that can teach us a lot about what is going on here on Earth. For example, there’s a lot of research on the International Space Station (ISS) that has applications here on Earth. Scientists grow crops on the ISS, and the research into LED lighting and fertilizer that has applications on Earth. They’ve worked on a fertilizer that directs nutrients to plant roots at the rate that they need it, which in space means less input; on Earth, less runoff into rivers and lakes.

There are so many great examples of how space has been important or could be in the future. Space offers us the opportunity to see the entire Earth, and so we can provide information that helps people understand how the climate is changing and generate ideas and inclusion and diversity of ideas to approach the different aspects of challenges.

There are space-based capabilities that can track wildfires as well as measure rising sea levels. Where fires are burning, we can look at emissions associated with fire, and that’s really important to people who live in affected communities. Also, scientists have combined models, both produced by NASA and other organizations, to think about how sea levels might rise in the future.

Earth Day is a unique opportunity to cherish our planet and raise awareness about the role of space exploration and utilization in preserving its beauty. It is essential to have the support of science and technology to ensure that we do not compromise our planet’s natural resources. We can use space to inspire people and to learn more about our planet so that we can make informed decisions that will benefit the entire planet. As Dr. Calvin states, “Science can provide critical insights into the challenges we face and support decision-making by policymakers, but science alone will not solve them.”

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