One Small Step For NASA, One Giant Leap For Our Planet

You’ve no doubt heard of the colossal trash vortex the size of Texas out in the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps, like me, you’ve even stopped to wonder why on on Earth we are trashing our planet.

If you’re dumbfounded by how we can neglect our own planet like this, here’s a fact that will really bum you out: We’re trashing outer space nearly as badly. In fact, space debris has become such a problem that International Space Station astronauts have slept in escape pods to protect them from particularly dangerous bits of floating rubbish.

Never fear, President Obama is here. He just released a new National Space Policy that, among other things, aims to get the world working together to clean up the space junk. So there’s some hope that, one day, we will stop chucking all our astro-garbage into a giant black hole we call outer space.

At this point, you may be wondering what what the hell a National Space Policy has to do with this planet’s environment.

As it turns out, a lot. The new policy also contains directives “to enhance U.S. global climate change research and sustained monitoring capabilities.” It basically is trying to bring our space program a little bit back down to Earth. The plan tasks the NASA Administrator, the Secretary of Commerce, the NOAA Administrator, and the Secretary of Defense to build programs that improve the use of observation satellites to study climate change, oceans, and coasts, and to forecast the weather.

It’s all pretty light on details, so there isn’t much to report as far how this will be accomplished. But it does seem as if NASA is embarking on a significantly new mission: less exploring the brave uninhabited frontier, more taking care of the place we still have to call home for the foreseeable future.

With respect to climate change, though, NASA already has some serious credentials thanks to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, which focuses on studying global warming. But you probably know all about the GISS already, given that climate scientist and activist James Hansen is the institute’s director.

Perhaps the GISS will get access to some of these nifty new satellite observation systems to bolster its work. Let’s just hope the space junk doesn’t get to the satellites before they help us stop global warming.

Image credit: keithfiore

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