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Laura Faye Tenenbaum

Laura Faye Tenenbaum is a science communicator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and teaches oceanography at Glendale Community College.

The struggle to reach out and tell the climate story

Credit: Lightspring /

“Nope, no. No. Nuh-uh. These aren’t good.”

I’m sitting next to one of my instructors at the University of Southern California‘s Annenberg School of Journalism where I’m taking a course in multimedia. We’re going through a series of photographs I’d taken for an assignment and he’s critiquing them.

“The photos don’t make me feel anything,” he says.

The day before, I had gone out to shoot photos with an agenda: to find a story about climate change and how it affects people — the same thing I do every day at work. I intended to find a science person to interview about the California drought and work in a climate change angle. But that was not going to happen. The instructors had given us an insanely tight deadline for a series of assignments—all due simultaneously—and restricted the location for our stories. On top of that, I was struggling with unfamiliar equipment.

The instructors also told us not to get blocked into our initial vision. But I was blocked and I was ticked off, too. It was obvious that I was not going to have my way. I felt like I was being pressed into an assignment that was impossible to complete within the allotted time frame. And frankly, I also thought the assignment was beyond my skill set and unrealistic for me.

But the assignment was due and there was no way I was going to quit. I was out in the field, walking around, and I absolutely had to find a stranger, interview him or her and make it work, period, end of story, done. Wandering through my assigned neighborhood, I stopped to admire a well-groomed garden in the front yard of one of the homes. When the homeowner, Migdalia Collazo, walked out onto her porch, I asked if she would allow me to photograph and interview her.

During that first photo shoot, I focused on composition, color, light and context, thinking that was the route to a compelling shot. But my photos were lacking the most important element: a compelling story; something to feel.

After the critique, my teacher’s words stayed with me, reverberating in my head:

                  The photos don’t make me feel anything.

                  The photos don’t make me feel anything.

                  The photos don’t make me feel anything.

As a climate and Earth science communicator, I find this is the biggest challenge. We’re in a constant fight to capture attention, to move people, to make them care about how their behavior is affecting Earth.

To feel something.

But we get caught up with logical analysis of facts and don’t understand why many people don’t hear our stories. This is incredibly frustrating because, for us, climate change is so important, so dire, such a big deal. We desperately want to reach out and let our stories be told; to find the right way for the meaning to get through.

So from now on, I’m committed. My goal is to find a way to inspire you to feel something.

As always, I look forward to you comments.


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August 6, 2014
posted by Holly Shaftel
13:02 PDT

Holly Shaftel
Holly Shaftel is an editor and social media specialist for NASA's Global Climate Change website.

Want to see something really cool? Duh. JPL's visualization team has updated the International Space Station (ISS) in NASA's Eyes on the Earth app to include the agency's next mission, ISS-RapidScat.

I know what you're thinking: What will RapidScat do, and why is it called that? RapidScat, short for "Rapid Scatterometer" (a scatterometer being a type of radar that bounces microwaves off Earth's surface and measures the strength and direction of return signals), is going to observe ocean winds from the ISS. Ocean winds tell scientists about the complex relationship between the ocean and the atmosphere. The mission will also tell scientists the role the sun's heat plays in creating winds. These data will contribute to both weather (short-term and local) and climate (long-term and global) predictions, such as those related to El Niño.

You might also wonder how it's going to be attached to the ISS. NASA partnered with SpaceX to use the company's Dragon, a free-flying spacecraft that will deliver the instrument to the station. Once there, an arm attached to the station will grab RapidScat from inside the Dragon and install it on the end of the station's Columbus laboratory.

Video of ISS-RapidScat, as seen in NASA's Eyes on the Earth web app. RapidScat is scheduled to launch in September 2014 via a SpaceX Dragon.

So, now there's a virtual RapidScat aboard a virtual ISS in NASA's Eyes on the Earth app. It's awesome and super detailed. In Eyes on the Earth, every spacecraft is a high-end, photorealistic (i.e., closely resembling the real-life spacecraft) rendering created by a 3D art director. You can view the spacecraft orbiting Earth, zoom in and/or access real-time data from your keyboard.

ISS-RapidScat is scheduled to launch in September 2014. Learn more about the science and instrument.

As always, we look forward to your comments.


ISS-RapidScat is part of NASA's Earth Right Now campaign, a series of five Earth science missions that will be launched into space in the same year, opening new and improved remote eyes to monitor our changing planet.

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July 18, 2014
12:41 PDT
Flirting with gravity

Like a rocket, Ammed, an aerialist from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey's Tuniziani Troupe, shoots toward the sky. Credit: Richie Gaona

“If you release the fly bar too early,” explains Richie Gaona, fourth-generation trapeze artist turned trainer, “your trick will go long and you risk banging into the catcher.” We are standing near the net talking about timing. He tosses a gardening glove into the air. It spins and lands a few feet away.

Rolando Bells on the launch pad preparing to take flight, while Kristin Finley and the rest of the Tunizianis act as support crew. Rolando Bells on the launch pad preparing to take flight, while Kristin Finley and the rest of the Tunizianis act as support crew.

“If you hold on too long, then your trick is short and you’ll miss.” Someone brings back the glove and he throws it again. It goes up spinning, but this time travels backwards. “If you let go at just the right moment, you get vertical lift, then a moment of stillness and end up a perfect arm's distance from the catcher.” The glove goes up, spins twice, and lands squarely where he intended with a satisfying plunk.

When people find out that I work at NASA and fly trapeze, they’re surprised that I have such diverse interests. I don’t see it that way: It’s the same sky, just a different type of rocket.

Richie’s "timing" explanation uses the same principles of physics that NASA uses to deploy many of its spacecraft. A combination of physics and timing is what accounted for the tight 30-second launch window of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) earlier this month. OCO-2 must arrive in the A-Train lineup as precisely as a trapeze artist performing a complex acrobatic trick. Two other NASA Earth science missions launching this year, ISS-RapidScat and CATS, will exploit the same science and math equations for their meticulous rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS).

I never did run away to join the circus. But Kristin Finley, the girl I stood next to for so many years on the platform (just another term for "launch pad"), made it all the way to the top. Although our journeys seem like worlds apart, they're actually more like a parallel universe.

That’s me in the sky over a party. (Credit: Bobby C. King) That’s me in the sky over a party. (Credit: Bobby C. King)

To me, NASA is enough like soaring through the air, shooting for the sky and flirting with the forces of gravity. And even though Kristin has traveled all around the globe, just like one of NASA’s Earth-orbiting satellites, the trapeze troupe she performs with came back into town this week.

So, for a day I ran away (a couple miles downtown, actually) to get swept up in flight, up in the air, thrusting into space and reaching for the sky.

Why do trapeze artists do what they do? The same reason we do what we do at NASA. It’s the attraction to what seems impossible; the relationship with space, to leave the ground and go upward, going as high as you can; to push boundaries using a combination of physics and sheer determination.

We push ourselves for the pure joy of pushing, and the hope that those who watch will be moved and inspired; that someone, somewhere, might see what we’re doing and consider pushing beyond their perceived limits, real or otherwise.

           Kristin with the Flying Bells. (Credit: Katia Chrispin)

As always, I look forward to your comments.


OCO-2, ISS-RapidScat and CATS are part of NASA's Earth Right Now campaign, a series of five Earth science missions that will be launched into space in the same year, opening new and improved remote eyes to monitor our changing planet.

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July 9, 2014
13:01 PDT

Dear Earth Right Now blog readers,

I appreciate you. I appreciate that you take the time to read these blog posts and that many of you like them, share them and even comment on them. I know it might seem like at NASA we are all a bunch of super intelligent, creative, intuitive space people, but in reality, we’re just like you. We have ups and downs, good days and rough patches. Often it’s the things that appear small that can be inspiring and meaningful, too.

I spend a large portion of my workday looking at satellite images of Earth, an amazingly glorious expanded view. This view from far above gives me a unique window into places on our planet that I haven’t been to, or places that maybe I’ll never ever go. It’s like looking at life or life’s problems from a distance can actually put everything into perspective.

All of us—you and I—we are together on this planet. We don’t need to travel very far to get excited. We can be astounded by what’s here.

Thanks to all of you again!


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July 2, 2014
13:41 PDT
Oh, what a night

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California. Credit: NASA / Randy Beaudoin / Vandenberg Air Force Base

There we stood for the second night in a row, looking into the distance at 2:30 in the morning, feeling the cool, still quiet of the nighttime air. Just like last night, I wasn’t tired at all. It was probably cautious optimism giving me just enough energy to stay alert. We could hear the live broadcast of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) launch over the NASA Television feed. Those of us still in town and eager to wake up in the middle of the night to watch the launch could see live, up-close shots of the Delta II rocket on the launch pad (which stood just west of where I was standing), intercut with views of what was going on in the control room at Vandenberg Air Force Base. We could hear the launch team as it went through its list of final preparations. We could hear the final countdown.

At 2:56 a.m. PDT (5:56 a.m. EDT), OCO-2 lifted off on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. My eyes strained to follow the rocket into the sky. If you were one of the people who watched the launch on NASA Television from home instead of being closer to the action like I was, you probably had just as good a view. Unlike two nights ago, which was clear, the California marine layer moved in last night, making it hard to see much.

I remained still, looking skyward, breathing, wondering, quiet. I could hear NASA TV tracking the rocket into the night sky. I thought about all of the knowledge that science has given us, and all that we have yet to learn. A camera installed on the launch vehicle showed the observatory smoothly separating from the rocket's second stage. A few minutes later, ground- and space-based antennas detected signals telling us that the observatory unfurled its twin sets of solar arrays. OCO-2 will join its sister satellites, the fleet of Earth-observing missions that help us understand the mysteries of the planet we call home.

Glendale Community College student Alina Bedrosian in the high bay overlooking JPL’s Spacecraft Assembly Facility used for assembly and test of space hardware similar to OCO-2. Glendale Community College student Alina Bedrosian in the high bay overlooking JPL’s Spacecraft Assembly Facility used for assembly and test of space hardware similar to OCO-2.

My thoughts meandered back to the many times I looked down from the high bay at JPL’s Spacecraft Assembly Facility, often bringing my college students there. Now both OCO-2 and the students would pass their tests and graduate at nearly the same time. NASA’s mission is “to reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.” But we also seek to inspire. We seek to inspire people all around the world, to inspire future scientists and engineers, and even to inspire ourselves.

I stayed awake for another hour or so watching the commentary on NASA TV. As I rested my head on my pillow at around 4:00 a.m., I was left alone with my thoughts of the night sky, and of the vastness of space, the wonder of new frontiers of science and my dreams of inspiration.

Thank you for your comments and have a wonderful and safe 4th of July holiday.


Find out more about the science, spacecraft and instrument at Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2).

OCO-2 is part of NASA's Earth Right Now campaign, a series of five Earth science missions that will be launched into space in the same year, opening new and improved remote eyes to monitor our changing planet.

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How many scientists does it take to launch a NASA satellite into space?

NASA's carbon dioxide-tracking satellite, Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2), will be launched into orbit via a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket on July 1 at 2:56 a.m. PT. Credit: Steve Greenberg

How many scientists, engineers and support crew does it take to launch a rocket with a NASA satellite into space? More than it takes to screw in a light bulb, that’s for sure. A big team collaborated on NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2)—a custom built, hand-crafted, experimental instrument—and prepared it for launch into orbit. I mean, it's not like you can actually buy a shiny new "prefab" science satellite off a store shelf.

As the July 1 launch creeps closer, the OCO-2 science team has been almost too busy to breathe. I caught Deputy Project Scientist Annmarie Eldering rushing between meetings to prepare for a Discovery News Earth-themed Google hangout. She was too busy to talk.

Dave Crisp OCO-2 Science Team Leader Dave Crisp poses with a model of the mission.
On the other hand, Science Team Leader David Crisp, is so proud of OCO-2 that he and I spent over an hour yacking away about the mission, even though he often has a line of people outside his office waiting to talk to him. And I spent another afternoon discussing launch plans with Project Scientist Mike Gunson.

If you were a fly buzzing through the halls of JPL, this is the sort of interesting information you might be surprised to learn about carbon dioxide (CO2) and NASA’s newest OCO-2 observatory:

  • As of now, there are between 70-150 ground-based stations around the world that measure CO2. At each of those stations, very precise measurements are made that tell us what’s happening at that individual location. Taken together, they give an average measurement for Earth’s whole atmosphere.
  • The reason NASA even has an OCO-2 mission is that we would never have enough ground-based CO2 measurements to figure out all the human processes that emit CO2 plus all the natural processes that both emit and absorb it, so we need to measure CO2 from space.
  • This new observatory will give us details about where, as one scientist put it, “every single CO2 molecule is going."
  • Human activity produces more CO2 (currently 35-40 billion tons annually) than any other greenhouse gas. Therefore, it can be said that CO2 is the principal anthropogenic greenhouse gas driving climate change.
  • Once the CO2 gets into Earth’s atmosphere, the only way for it to leave is by being absorbed into the ocean or taken in by plants. The CO2 that stays in the Earth's atmosphere may stay there a thousand years.
  • The fact that CO2 stays in the atmosphere such a long time means that it’s mixed into the atmosphere really well, which makes measuring small variations very difficult. That's why NASA’s OCO-2 instruments must be extremely precise.
  • To design instruments to be sensitive enough to measure CO2, scientists borrowed ideas from the practice of measuring the thermal radiation that shines through the clouds on Venus' dim night side.
  • OCO-2 sits atop a Delta II rocket, which is scheduled to launch on July 1 at 2:56 a.m. PT. There is only a 30-second launch window.
  • A number of weather issues could cause a postponement. These include thunderstorms and lightening, anvil clouds or conditions that cause hail. Everyone is excitedly checking the weather; atmospheric scientists love weather. The forecast for Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast (where the launch will take place) is clear and calm. (Yay!)
  • Fifty-two minutes after launch, separation of the OCO-2 observatory from the launch vehicle second stage will occur. Three minutes after that, the observatory’s solar panels will deploy and the satellite will have enough juice to send us a 'Hi, I’m powered on' message.
  • Once we begin to receive detailed data from OCO-2, NASA scientists will be extremely careful to compare and validate (double-check) the data from space against ground-based measurements before it's released to the public. This information is crucial and, at NASA, it’s our job to ensure that what we report is accurate and verified.

This weekend, I’ll be heading up the coast to tweet, post and blog about the launch. Follow along at these links:

NASA Climate Change Facebook page



NASA's Global Climate Change website

The OCO-2 website

Earth Right Now blog

Thanks for your comments,


OCO-2 is part of NASA's Earth Right Now campaign, a series of five Earth science missions that will be launched into space in the same year, opening new and improved remote eyes to monitor our changing planet.

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This video shows NASA’s OCO-2 satellite as seen in NASA’s Eyes on the Earth 3D web application.

Human activities add over 39 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into Earth’s atmosphere every year. If every living man, woman and child on the planet contributed equally to the problem, that would come out to five and a half tons of emitted CO2 per person. But some carbon footprints are larger than others. On average, each person in the U.S. produces about 16 tons of CO2 per year mostly by burning coal, oil and natural gas.

NASA’s new Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) has the potential to be a game changer. The technology on OCO-2 is so sensitive that every day scientists will have 100 times more measurements than they presently do.

OCO-2 is scheduled to launch on July 1, 2014. Find out more about the science, spacecraft and instrument at Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2).

As always, I appreciate your comments.


OCO-2 is part of NASA's Earth Right Now campaign, a series of five Earth science missions that will be launched into space in the same year, opening new and improved remote eyes to monitor our changing planet.

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June 11, 2014
16:23 PDT
Excited about OCO-2? Are you kidding?

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) uncrated after arriving at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB). OCO-2, scheduled for a July 1 launch, is the agency's first carbon-counting mission.

Ask any of the teams of scientists, project engineers, system engineers, technicians or support crew preparing for NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) launch scheduled for July 1 if they’re excited. The answer will be something like “we’re too busy to get excited yet.”  

I feel the same way. The launch is weeks away, and at JPL we are busy, busy, busy. There’s so much to do before the launch to make sure all systems are go; that both the spacecraft and the rocket are okay.

Delta II rocket on which OCO-2 will be launched into space. Delta II rocket on which OCO-2 will be launched into space.
Right now the spacecraft is at Vandenberg Air Force Base inside the Astrotech building, where the spacecraft hardware is being processed. What that means is that before OCO-2 goes into the Delta II rocket that will take it into orbit, it must go through a series of final tests and inspections—a chance to have human hands or eyes on it before it is put atop the rocket and blasts off into space. The "remove-before-flight" plugs are getting removed and the "install-before-flight" plugs are getting installed. The special spacecraft fuel needed to maneuver the spacecraft as it turns and twists toward Earth is being added. 

The network connectivity and data flow from the spacecraft to the mission operations center, the ground network antennas and the operational readiness tests, including mission simulations where technicians and engineers simulate early operations and operation contingency, are performed. Finally, there is a last-minute closeout inspection.

If all goes as planned, the observatory will go onto the rocket at the end of this week.

Oh, and I lied earlier. I actually am excited. I hope you are, too.

Find out more about the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) science, spacecraft and instrument.

As always, I appreciate your comments.


OCO-2 is part of NASA's Earth Right Now campaign, a series of five Earth science missions that will be launched into space in the same year, opening new and improved remote eyes to monitor our changing planet.

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June 4, 2014
10:33 PDT
A taste of NASA

Edible model of OCO-2, NASA's soon-to-launch carbon-counting satellite.

Feast your eyes on my latest edible satellite model: NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2). Go ahead and laugh if you want—creating it was harder than it looks, and getting a decent photo was even more of a challenge. I created this food model to commemorate the upcoming launch (July 1, 2014) of NASA’s latest climate satellite, which will precisely monitor and map carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere.

As with the model I created to pay tribute to the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, this one was made of foods that I actually ate, so nothing went to waste. The radish and kale were harvested from my garden. The body of the satellite is a carved pineapple, the solar array is made from lettuce, the star tracker is a carrot, the vent pipe is a kale stalk, the instrument radiator is made of dried mango and the space blanket is dried kelp and radish. By looking closely at the instruments' designs to create the food model, I had to learn and understand more about this mission than I would merely studying a graphic or line drawing.

I encourage you to make your own NASA OCO-2 satellite model and to share your photos in the comments section. The spacecraft detail drawing is shown below, and you can learn about the OCO-2 mission and see more illustrations on the mission home page:

I look forward to your comments and creativity.

Thanks for reading my blog.


OCO-2 specifications My reference for creating the OCO-2 model.

OCO-2 is part of NASA's Earth Right Now campaign, a series of five Earth science missions that will be launched into space in the same year, opening new and improved remote eyes to monitor our changing planet.

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May 27, 2014
posted by Amber Jenkins
10:55 PDT

Amber Jenkins

Perspective is everything.

We humans have made great progress to get to this unique point in our history. But those very strides now pose us with the greatest challenges. The combination of a booming population, increasing industrialization and the ability to exploit Earth’s natural resources like never before is, quite literally, changing the face of our planet.

NASA’s new Images of Change iPad app tracks this changing face, giving a global perspective on our planet in flux.

The app offers a collection of some of the best before-and-after image pairs from this site, NASA’s Webby-award-winning Global Climate Change website. The site is a larger effort to make information about climate change, images and interactive tools more accessible to citizens and decision makers, which is also a key aspect of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. 

ALT TEXT The dramatic retreat of Pedersen Glacier in Alaska. Left: summer 1917. Right: summer 2005. Credit: 1917 photo captured by Louis H. Pedersen; 2005 photo taken by Bruce F. Molnia. Source: The Glacier Photograph Collection, National Snow and Ice Data Center/World Data Center for Glaciology.
The Images of Change app — currently geared for the iPad but with versions for iPhone and Android platforms in the works — shows places that have changed dramatically over days, years or centuries. Some of these locations have suffered a disaster, such as a fire or tsunami, or illustrate the impact of human activities, such as dam building or urban sprawl. Others document the ravage of climate change such as persistent drought and rapidly receding glaciers. Viewers can look at the images side-by-side or overlay them using a slider bar to travel from past to present. Each image pair includes background information on what the viewer is seeing and its location on a map.

The app is a spin-off from our Images of Change gallery project launched in 2009. With nearly 300 image sets, taken mostly from space but also at ground level, the gallery is one of the more popular parts of the Global Climate Change website. Seeing is believing, and climate change can feel like a rather abstract concept at times. It can seem like a far-off, not-going-to-affect-me type of thing, and it’s definitely easier not to think about it. But the images are hard to ignore. They offer a compelling view of how our planet is changing before our eyes. The app, which curates a subset of the gallery content, allows people to explore climate change for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

ALT TEXT Fields of green springing up in the desert of Saudi Arabia, which involves tapping hidden reserves of water trapped during the last Ice Age. Credit: Images taken by the Thematic Mapper sensor onboard Landsat 4 and 5, and the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus sensor onboard Landsat 7. Source: NASA/Aries Keck, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
When you think of NASA, you might think of robotic vehicles roving on Mars, or probes flying out into the solar system, or the Hubble space telescope peering back into the distant past of our universe. But the agency has for a long time been at the forefront of research into our climate, with its fleet of “eyes on the Earth”—more than a dozen satellites orbiting over us and a slew of aircraft carrying scientific instruments—as well as an army of scientists on the ground making measurements and analyzing models and data.

ALT TEXT The impact of the Yacryeta Dam, a joint hydroelectric project between Paraguay and Argentina that flooded surrounding lands. Left: 1985. Right: 2010. Credit: Images taken by the Thematic Mapper sensor onboard Landsat 5 and the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus onboard Landsat 7. Source: USGS Landsat Missions Gallery, "Parana River Diversion," U.S. Department of the Interior / U.S. Geological Survey.
Centuries of planet-watching tell us that climate change is real, it’s happening now—and human beings are the cause. The latest climate reports to come out of the United States and United Nations are sobering. Places like the West Antarctic ice sheet are passing the point of no return, and the destructive and expensive extreme events we’re seeing now (floods, super storms, heat waves, drought, wildfires, et al) are likely to get worse.

Our way of life is built around the climate we are used to. As climate change marches on, can we adapt fast enough? Can we slow down or reverse climate change to manageable levels and be the careful stewards of the planet that some argue we should be? The unique, global perspective we get from space can help us see just how small, fragile and interconnected our planet really is. What happens next is up to us.

The Images of Change iPad app is available for free download at

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