Image: Al-Khufrah Oasis
The Al-Khufrah Oasis in southeastern Libya is one of that country's largest agricultural irrigation projects, and is an easy-to-recognize landmark for astronauts aboard the international space station.
updated 11/18/2004 3:58:06 PM ET 2004-11-18T20:58:06

NASA, the space agency that put humans on the moon, says it's joining an effort to map the earth in the name of conservation.

NASA and the World Conservation Union signed an agreement to use the space agency’s satellite system to monitor global environment change in the hope of preserving the planet.

“The mission of NASA is to understand and protect our home planet Earth and also to use its space-based observation to serve humanity,” Ghassem Asrar, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for Earth science, told reporters in the Thai capital. “What better way to serve humanity than to help understand how our home is changing and what the consequences of that change are for us and for our children.”

The World Conservation Union, which is the world’s largest environmental umbrella group, said the remote-sensing technology would revolutionize the conservation struggle.

“The potential for the beneficial use of this information in the area of the environment and conservation is enormous,” said Achim Steiner, the group's director-general. “Yet until now, it has remained largely untapped, particularly in the developing world.”

Asrar said NASA’s 30 research satellites in orbit would be focused on monitoring natural and human-caused changes around the world and assessing their impact.

The satellites, worth an estimated $14 billion, promise to chart a new frontier in conservation by discovering unknown species of plants and animals, and pinpointing their habitats.

“There are about 30 million species on the planet. We have only managed to identify 2 million of them, and out of that we know the habitats of just one out of every 10,” Asrar said.

“NASA can help close some of these gaps. We can now examine every habitat for every species around the world based on this satellite observation and do it seamlessly on a daily basis,” he told Reuters.

NASA said it is keen to share its space technology with communities around the world, a notion that would have been unthinkable just 30 years ago during the height of the Cold War.

“One of the benefits of these 21st-century technologies is that they have brought us all together,” said Asrar. “We no longer view ourselves as citizens of countries alone, we see ourselves as citizens of the globe.”


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