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NASA Puts Earth Up for Adoption

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Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency photographed the Rocky Mountains from his vantage point in low Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station. (ESA/NASA)
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Adoption is a pretty tried and true conservation strategy. There’s adopt-a-highway to keep roadways clean, adopt-a-rainforest, adopt-a-puffin and dozens more. Now, NASA has taken things one step further, putting Earth up for adoption.

The project is called Adopt the Planet and it’s an effort to help raise awareness for Earth science and environmental problems in celebration of Earth Day. NASA has divided the entire surface of the planet into 64,000 hexagonal pieces, each about 55 miles wide. Anyone who signs up for an adoption gets a randomly selected tile somewhere on Earth along with an adoption certificate and Earth science data that NASA scientists and collaborators have spent decades collecting.

The goal is to have every block adopted by Earth Day on April 22. And if all 64,000 blocks are adopted, NASA will go through the entire list again. 

The project is not just a way to celebrate Earth Day, it’s also a chance for NASA to engage with the public about Earth science and get more people to take a close look at our home planet using their Worldview website. “NASA continually looks outward to find and learn about planets in our solar system and beyond, but no planet is better studied than the one we actually live on,” NASA says in the press release. “Our fleet of 18 Earth science missions in space, supported by aircraft, ships and ground observations, measure aspects of the environment that touch the lives of every person around the world.”

Worldview includes layers of data from each of those missions, including things like sea temperature, vegetation cover, cloud height, atmospheric dust, root zone soil moisture and dozens of other data sets.

In the last few years NASA has launched several Earth science missions, including the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, which maps carbon dioxide concentrations, as well as instruments to measure ocean winds, measure soil moisture and a satellite to measure clouds and dust particles in the atmosphere. The most recent mission is the GOES-16 weather satellite which includes a nifty lighting tracker.

But as Stephen Clark reports for Spaceflight Now, those missions might be it for a while. NASA is expecting cuts to its Earth science program, with four missions focused on climate science being targeted for elimination in the White House’s proposed budget. Still, NASA says it hopes to keep going with its Earth science program, even if there are cutbacks.

“We continue to be committed to studying our home planet,” Robert M. Lightfoot Jr., NASA’s acting administrator said in a recent address.“We’ll reshape our focus based on the resources available to us, and the budget, while it’s lower, is still in pretty good shape for us, for what we’re going to do in Earth science.”

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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