NASA fleet
NASA has more than a dozen Earth science spacecraft/instruments in orbit studying all aspects of the Earth system (oceans, land, atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere), with several more planned for launch in the next few years.
When people think of NASA, they think of rovers on Mars, astronauts floating aboard the International Space Station, or probes veering out to the edge of the solar system. They don’t necessarily link NASA with climate research and observations. But Earth is a planet too, and NASA is one of the biggest players in the Earth science arena, with broad expertise on observing our climate, especially from the vantage point of space. Today it spends over a billion dollars a year doing Earth science and has more than a dozen satellites in orbit around the planet watching the oceans, land, ice, atmosphere and biosphere.

In the 1970s, NASA’s planetary exploration budget fell dramatically. It was then that the agency really got into the business of studying our home planet from orbit. It was also a time when people were beginning to realize that our climate could change relatively fast, on the scale of the human lifespan. Today, we know that our climate is changing at an unprecedented rate and that humans are a key part of that change. NASA continues to launch new satellite missions, and is also relying on aircraft (manned and unmanned), as well as scientists on the ground, to take vital measurements of things like snowpack and hurricanes, augmenting the big-picture view we get from space.

NASA’s role is to make observations of our Earth system that can be used by the public, policymakers and to support strategic decisions. Its job is to do rigorous science. However, the agency does not promote particular climate policies.

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