Jan 14, 2021

NASA and USDA: A Bountiful Partnership

Aerial image showing green and grey peninsula of land surrounded by ocean in shades of light teal blue to dark greenish blue.
Data captured by Landsat 8, operated by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, was combined to make this natural color composite image of the Delmarva Peninsula on the U.S. East Coast July 20, 2019. These images are used to assess agriculture production and its interactions with the environment.
Aerial image bright green circles against a background of drab green.
Images like this false-color composite show agricultural crops, seen as vibrant green, and non-crop vegetation, which appears in more subdued shades of green. The agriculture sector uses these types of images to assess crop production and management practices as they change within season and over the decades. This image from Texas was made on Sept. 6, 2019 by combining the short-wave infrared (SWIR) and near-infrared (NIR) bands from Landsat 8, which is operated by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Two clear plastic cups. The left cup shows a thriving, bright green Mizuna seedling in a pale tan growing medium. The right cup shows a much smaller, paler green Mizuna seedling in a pale tan growing medium.
Growth promotion effect of the TC 09 Cladosporium fungus on the growth of mizuna plants (inside culture vessels).
A broad, shallow growing tray with three kinds of plants, from near (lower part of image) to far (upper) part of image. Broad-leafed greens are nearest, red-leafed plants in the middle, with elongated-green leafed plants furthest.
Different “microgreen” species being tested in controlled environment chambers at Kennedy Space Center.

An expanding research partnership between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will help develop new ways of growing food on Earth and in space.

The agreement – known as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) – will foster research between the two Federal agencies to share and apply space-based measurements of soil moisture, strengthen predictions of agricultural and climate trends, and support research on the carbon cycle and growing fruits and vegetables for spaceflight.

The MOU solidifies, expands, and continues a long-standing and symbiotic relationship between the two agencies, as each executes missions to measure and monitor the environment, conduct agricultural research, and extend data and information for use in agricultural decision-making. USDA brings to the partnership scientific expertise in agricultural production, resource conservation, food security and safety, as well as forests and working lands. NASA brings it’s unique capabilities in technology development and space-borne Earth system science research to improve life on earth and in space.

Under this MOU, four areas of focused research will be pursued initially by NASA and the USDA, including soil management, carbon science, microgreen plants, and fruit production.  Two involve NASA’s Earth Science Division and two involve the agency’s Biological and Physical Sciences Division.  Each of these NASA divisions will work closely with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

In regard to soil management research, NASA will provide the USDA with frequent global estimates of surface and root-zone soil moisture from a variety of satellite-based platforms and model simulations.  In turn, NASA will rely on USDA measurement networks and research for development, calibration, and validation of satellite algorithms and potential products.

Moreover, collaboration on carbon cycle science will support research and education aimed at better understanding Earth’s various ecosystems to improve predictions.

Additionally, microgreen plant research will focus on using a controlled environment to optimize growth and nutritional value and exploring their potential as nutritious food supplements, which could be consumed by humans on Earth or in space.

Finally, NASA and USDA will also develop technologies for fruit production and plant propagation which could provide fresh food to supplement pre-packaged space food and offer aesthetic and psychological benefits to astronauts living in space.

To learn more about Biological and Physical Sciences (BPS) research initiatives, go to:

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, go to: