Seeing the Big Picture

Satellite image of earth

Of all the planets NASA has explored, none yet have matched the dynamic complexity of our own Earth. Earth teems with life and liquid water; massive storms rage over land and oceans; environments range from deserts to tropical forests to the icy poles. And amid all of that, seven billion people carve out a daily life. 

NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world.

People worldwide use NASA data to tackle some of the biggest questions about how our planet is changing. NASA enables studies that unravel the complexities of our planet from the highest reaches of Earth’s atmosphere to its core. NASA also works to put Earth science data into the hands of the world’s decision-makers, making a difference in people’s lives around the world every day. From farms to our national parks, from today’s response to natural disasters to tomorrow’s air quality, from the Arctic to the Amazon, NASA is working for you 24/7.


Meet the Fleet 

From flagship missions like Terra, Aqua and Aura to instruments aboard the International Space Station and airplanes to ground-based sensors, NASA Earth science data is collected from a variety of sources. Taken together they provide a view of Earth unlike any other.

Visit: NASA Earth Science Missions

Earth science mission fleet chart


A View Like No Other

All of Earth’s systems like the water cycle, vegetation, arctic ice, weather and living things all interact with each other. NASA’s fleet of Earth-observing instruments provide data about all aspects of our home planet. Connecting this data together and showing how these systems interact with each other is possible due to NASA’s more than 40 years of Earth science data from space. This video shows twenty years of global biosphere data mapped on a slowly spinning globe.


Remote Sensing Explained 

A primer on why we need remote sensing to study the Earth and the differences between active and passive remote sensing from satellites. 


Applying NASA Data

All of NASA’s Earth science data is freely available to the public. NASA’s Applied Sciences program optimizes the use of NASA data by working hand-in-hand with decision makers, U.S. federal agencies, non-governmental agencies, other countries, scientists worldwide, private companies and U.S. state, local and tribal governments.


Applied Sciences Program Areas

The Water Resources and Ecological Forecasting program areas support projects getting NASA’s Earth data resources to decision-makers in organizations like non-governmental groups, water resource managers and others. The Food Security and Agriculture program area, known as NASA Harvest, promotes the use of Earth observations to strengthen food security, support market stability and protect human livelihoods.

The Health & Air Quality program area provides policymakers with Earth observations to enhance decision-making about public health, with a special focus on environmental health and infectious diseases. The Capacity Building program area provides individuals and institutions with workforce development, training activities, and collaborative projects to strengthen understanding of Earth observations and expand their use around the world.

The Disasters program area leverages the Earth observing fleet to ready new methods of detecting, evaluating, and predicting disasters, assessing damage and aiding recovery, and the social, cultural, and economic consequences of these events with the goal of reducing risk and strengthening resilience.

Photograph of woman working in a field.


Capacity Building

The Capacity Building program provides individuals and institutions with workforce development, training activities, and collaborative projects to strengthen understanding of Earth observations and expand their use around the world. The Applied Remote Sensing Training program (ARSET) offers online and in-person trainings for beginners and advanced practitioners alike. In collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the SERVIR program partners with leading regional organizations around the world to help developing countries use Earth-observing data to manage environmental risks and land use. The DEVELOP program allows individuals to gain experience applying Earth observations by working on interdisciplinary projects with state and local governments, nonprofits, and other organizations The Indigenous Peoples Pilot focuses on building relationships across NASA and Indigenous communities through place-based remote sensing training, community engagement, and co-production of knowledge.


Disasters Mapping Portal

Map of the world with earth science call outs

Satellites are a critical tool for disaster researchers to monitor natural hazards around the world both in near-real time and with predictive modeling, providing invaluable data for response efforts on the ground. Combined with airborne science assets, hazard models, and partnerships with disaster response agencies around the world, the Disasters program area leverages the Earth observing fleet to ready new methods of detecting, evaluating, and predicting disasters and their social, cultural, and economic consequences with the goal of reducing risk and strengthening resilience. Disaster applications and applied research on natural hazards support emergency mitigation approaches, such as early warning systems, and providing information and maps to disaster response and recovery teams. 

View: Disasters Mapping Portal


Air pollution can appear as a gray or orange haze enveloping a city. What the naked eye can’t see are the hundreds of chemical reactions taking place to produce that pollution. NASA science can reveal a more complete picture of atmospheric chemistry. This NASA visualization shows 96 chemical species that help form one common air pollutant — surface ozone. While ozone in the stratosphere is critical to maintaining life on Earth, surface ozone is a toxic gas to most plant and animal species. Capturing such complexity requires satellites, a computer model, and a supercomputer all working in concert. 

Six maps of Africa with color coded earth data

An example of modeling is the NASA Hydrological Forecast and Analysis System. This capability was developed to provide seasonal drought forecasts that are relevant for USAID and USACE activities in the Middle East and Africa, based on existing NASA Earth science capabilities. Primary goals include supporting USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network to better predict water supply deficits related to agricultural drought and food insecurity, and providing indicators related to forecasted hydrological anomalies and conditions.  


Satellite Data Processing

In a data-processing room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., racks of high-powered computers are getting ready to make a map. It's not the familiar satellite map of farms, forests and cities. Instead, this map will show what's hovering above the ground — snowfall and rainfall. The data comes from the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, an international partnership led by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

This is an example of the many NASA data processing centers and activities taking place daily across the agency. NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) data products are processed at various levels, ranging from raw data at full instrument resolution to products where data is converted to more useful parameters and formats.


Airborne Science

Airborne Science

The Airborne Science Program within the Earth Science Division is responsible for providing aircraft systems that further science and advance the use of satellite data. In 2021, NASA’s Airborne Science Program began to fly many of the missions scheduled for 2020 and delayed due to COVID. These include: 

Read: Airborne Science Program Summer 2021 Newsletter


Filling in the Details with GLOBE

Photo of woman standing in a field taking a photograph

While NASA satellites are seeing the big picture from above, students and citizen scientists can help add details from the ground. One way to do this is through the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program. For example, ground observations can help by filling in the gaps in land cover data, offering a comparison to satellite observations of tree height, documenting the aftermath of wildfires or other extreme events, giving the bottom-up view of clouds matched to satellite data, providing reports of dust storms, recording air temperature and clouds during an eclipse, and much more! A new project through the Zooniverse online platform, NASA GLOBE CLOUD GAZE, allows participants to identify cloud types and other phenomena in photos taken by GLOBE participants, helping make the data more usable for scientists. 

GLOBE Program Group Photo

GLOBE is honored to be a recipient of the AGU 2021 Excellence in Earth and Space Science Education Award. The award is given annually to an individual, or group/team demonstrating a sustained commitment to excellence in geophysical education. Successful candidates have made long-lasting, positive impacts in the Earth and space sciences at any education level from kindergarten through postgraduate studies.

Videos to Watch: