NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy affirmed the agency’s commitment to studying climate change during a visit to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California on Oct. 14. The visit was hosted by JPL Interim Director Larry James and also included a meeting with scientists and engineers operating the Perseverance Mars rover and Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.

Administrator Nelson convened an Earth science roundtable discussion at JPL that focused on ways scientists, engineers, resource managers, and policymakers can work together to address climate challenges on our home planet. Taking part in the roundtable were Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum, California Reps. Judy Chu, Pete Aguilar, Julia Brownley, and Ted Lieu; California Natural Resources Sec. Wade Crowfoot; and California Environmental Protection Sec. Jared Blumenfeld.

“In truth, this discussion is about saving our planet,” Nelson said. “NASA is the point of the spear on climate change.”

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Central to the discussion were NASA JPL efforts to address climate resilience by measuring key indicators, such as the powerful greenhouse gas methane, and tracking freshwater across the globe. NASA assets also provide decision-makers and responders with critical data about damage following natural disasters such as earthquakes and wildfires.

On Oct. 14, NASA Administrator (second from left) and Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy (far right) visited JPL.
On Oct. 14, NASA Administrator (second from left) and Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy (far right) visited JPL. With them are (from far left) Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum, JPL Interim Director Larry James, JPL CFO Sammy Kayali, and NASA Office of JPL Management and Oversight Marcus Watkins. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After the roundtable, NASA leadership and California officials then headed to the surface mission support area that controls operations for the Perseverance rover, which landed in Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021, with an experimental helicopter attached to its belly. Perseverance engineers and scientists shared details about recent rover activities in the crater floor region nicknamed “Séítah” and what they hope to discover at the ancient river delta in the distance and beyond.

JPL leaders also discussed future plans for the Mars Sample Return campaign to bring rock and sediment samples Perseverance collects back to Earth for study. The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter team updated the group on their next flight plans.

The visit ended with a trip to the gallery looking into JPL’s Spacecraft Assembly Facility, the clean room where Moon probes, orbiters sent to Jupiter and Saturn, and generations of Mars rovers have taken shape. Engineers and technicians there are assembling the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) spacecraft. NISAR, a partnership with the Indian Space Research Organisation, will track subtle changes to the Earth’s surface, providing new ways to mitigate the threat of natural hazards, better manage natural resources, and understand climate change.

NISAR is part of NASA’s Earth System Observatory, a new set of Earth-focused missions to provide key information to guide efforts related to climate change, disaster mitigation, fighting forest fires, and improving real-time agricultural processes. The satellites within the Earth System Observatory will complement each other, working in tandem to create a 3D, holistic view of Earth, from bedrock to atmosphere.

JPL is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California.

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