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NASA is Working off Earth, for Earth

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden highlights how climate change is impacting NASA and outlines a plan to respond.

Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from the NASA Blog

At NASA, we have a unique perspective on Earth.  Every day, we observe its grandeur from our International Space Station orbiting 250 miles above the planet and capture a wealth of scientific data about how our planet is changing from our fleet of Earth observing satellites.  This year, with the launch of five Earth-observing missions -- more Earth-focused launches in a single 12-month period than we’ve had in more than a decade -- NASA will be able to deliver even more crucial data to scientists trying to understand our changing planet.

Back on Earth, we can't escape the impact of climate change on our facilities and operations.  Today, we are releasing our annual Sustainability Report and our Climate Change Adaption Plan that detail the steps NASA is taking to reduce carbon emissions, save energy and cut costs for the American taxpayer; as well as a review of the key challenges we face as a result of climate change.

The reports confirm that NASA's critical launch pads and other facilities are vulnerable to beach erosion; currently, 66 percent of our assets are within 16 feet of sea level located along America's coasts. This threat will only increase as sea levels rise and storm intensity increases.

Electrical black-outs and brown-outs associated with heat waves threaten energy utilities that provide power NASA uses to receive and process data from space.

Rocket engine testing at Stennis Space Center depends on surrounding forests to buffer the noise and vibrations from testing, which requires a constant evaluation of our climate resilience.

That's why we believe it is so important to steward our agency's use of natural resources and to plan for future mitigation of the impacts of a changing climate.  Our 2014 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan examines eleven goals including fleet management, greenhouse gas reduction, and climate change resilience and pollution prevention.  It shows that in 2013, NASA made significant progress on sustainability measures.  For example, we surpassed our petroleum reduction and alternative fuel usage goals, reducing use of petroleum by nearly 37 percent last year, while increasing use of alternative fuels 297 percent over 2005 benchmarks.

NASA is also focusing on the security of our energy and water supplies. Since 2010, we've reduced the amount of water we've used for industrial, landscaping and agricultural purposes by 70 percent.  NASA developed an Energy Security Plan (ESP) template to provide Centers with a guideline to generate their energy/water security plans based on their local conditions. 

Stewards at NASA Centers are evaluating risks, proposing adaptation strategies, and integrating strategies into existing management plans.

NASA's work in this area has captured national attention.  Today, NASA’s Director of Center Operations for the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Joel B. Walker, received a 2014 GreenGov Presidential Award, recognizing his commitment to leading by example on sustainability issues. Joel developed and implemented a multifaceted sustainability management approach that has focused on areas of energy and water reduction, green purchasing, reducing the generation of hazardous waste and increased diversion of waste through recycling initiatives.  Under his direction, Johnson Space Center has constructed seven certified green buildings, which use 100 percent green power and has reduced potable water use by 15 percent annually and composted over 85,000 pounds of food waste.  Clearly Mr. Walker’s leadership has set the standard for sustainability

Through our management of climate risks and incorporation of sustainability principles into operations and planning, NASA is a resilient enterprise in service to the nation.  We will continue to provide stellar research that improves our knowledge of earth science, including data and analyses to better understand climate systems. 

Charles Bolden is Administrator of NASA