Op-ed | Space is Vital for Earth Day

Space is vital to the mission and spirit of Earth Day. One might even say that Space is really all about Earth. From Space, we monitor forests, deserts and regions under stress in order to better protect them. Space provides precision navigation of long distances to reduce fossil fuel consumption, Space greatly enhances agriculture, reducing hunger. And, Space exploration helps us better understand our place in the Universe.

The Environmental Movement, of which Earth Day is a centerpiece, was sparked into existence by a single photograph. In 1968, an Apollo 8 astronaut snapped a simple picture of the Earth over the Moon’s limb and dubbed it “Earthrise.” This image of our fragile, blue, jewel-like home amidst the vast emptiness of black space, altered the perception of millions of people, leading to an awareness of humankind’s vulnerability and stewardship of our precious planet. While not the original mission of Apollo, this unexpected societal revelation only happened because of the unique viewpoint provided by Space.

Earth Day serves to remind us how lucky we are to call Earth our home and how important it is for us to be responsible caretakers of this planet. For those of us in the Space industry, it is also important that we remind our fellow humans of the importance of Space’s current and historical role in our understanding of the Earth. All Americans believe that properly caring for our natural environment is vitally important. Our planet’s climate is a global system that cannot be effectively monitored, understood, and protected without Space. The public expects this to be an essential part of NASA’s mission. The Space Industry and agencies like NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should take this Earth Day to reaffirm their commitment to remain leaders in developing aerospace solutions to global challenges like climate change.

I am making that personal commitment at ULA. We will continue to play a crucial role in the advancement of Earth science and the observation of our changing climate. We have built our fleet of launch vehicles to meet the needs of the scientific community. We have achieved 100 percent mission success, delivering over 140 missions to orbit and beyond, ensuring our nation’s most advanced space-based scientific instruments successfully reach their destination and return the accurate, honest, and meaningful data that is essential to this mission.

For example, we’ve launched NASA and NOAA environmental missions into polar orbit, helping provide essential data to study the Earth’s climate. These next-generation missions have provided scientists with real-time weather data as well as information on how the changing climate is affecting sea ice levels and tropical forests.

ULA will continue this legacy by launching Landsat 9, Lucy and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-T (GOES-T) later this year — all missions that will further contribute to our understanding of Earth. We will launch Landsat 9 this September, allowing researchers to further observe the effects of climate change on the Earth’s surface. In October, ULA will launch NASA’s Lucy mission that will be the first mission to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids and potentially help us learn more about the origins of our solar system, and the origin of life on Earth. We will cap off December by launching the joint NASA-NOAA GOES-T mission that will monitor both Earth weather including hurricanes, tornadoes, and air quality, as well as space weather and its effect on Earth.

Launching these missions is a national effort. To ensure we safely deliver these treasures to their intended destinations, ULA depends on small businesses across the nation to deliver reliable hardware and services on time. The quality of our vast supplier network, as well as the world-class, dedicated, unionized manufacturers and operators at ULA, ensure mission success every single time.

While some advocate that humans should become a multi-planetary species because Earth is not salvageable and should be abandoned, I kindly disagree. Earth is a pretty darn good place to live, and our efforts to conserve and maintain its beauty by planting trees or launching a climate observing satellite are not just worthwhile, it’s every person’s duty. This should not be a question of do we invest in protecting the Earth or do we abandon it for Mars. We will be good stewards of our home and we will also continue to explore new worlds.

We must all do our part so that future generations can witness their own versions of “Earth Rise,” that will be just as beautiful and inspiring as the one taken in 1968.


Tory Bruno is the president and CEO of United Launch Alliance (ULA).

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