NASA Headquarters and Centers
Goddard Space Flight Center is a bustling community of top scientists, engineers, and administrative managers. This NASA center was established in January 1959, named after American rocket pioneer, Robert Goddard, who engineered and launched the world's first liquid-fueled rocket.
As NASA's first major scientific laboratory devoted entirely to the exploration of space, Goddard's mission is in space science, earth science, and technology. Situated in Greenbelt, Maryland, Goddard has the largest scientific staff of all the NASA centers. The center also implements suborbital programs using sounding rockets, balloons, and aircraft from the Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.
Theoretical research of the center is carried out at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Located in New York City, the institute operates in close association with area universities, and delves into geophysics, astronomy, and meteorology.
Goddard is providing lead support for NASA's Earth Science Enterprise. This endeavor addresses the fundamental question: How can we utilize the knowledge of the Sun, Earth, and other planetary bodies to develop predictive environmental, climate, natural disaster, and natural resource models to help ensure sustainable development, and improve the quality of life on Earth?
To answer this question, a series of satellite launchings have been orchestrated to combine atmospheric, oceanic, and land surface observations into a global environmental study focusing on climate change. Integrated measurements of the Earth's processes from these spacecraft will generate an environmental database focusing on climate change. This unprecedented observational ability can expand our perspective of the global environment to the benefit of everyone.
In August 1997, the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) was launched on the OrbView-2 satellite. This Goddard-managed payload is monitoring global chlorophyll A in the oceans once every two days. SeaWiFS is producing data at a rate unequaled in the history of oceanographic remote sensing, providing scientists with a nearly comprehensive global view of the oceans.
Another part of the quest to study the Earth is measuring rainfall. Rainfall is perhaps the most important factor in defining climate. Excess rainfall can cause flooding and enormous property and crop damage. On the other hand, a lack of rainfall means droughts and crop failure. Rainfall is also a major source of energy that drives the circulation of the atmosphere. Surprisingly, tropical rainfall comprises more than two-thirds of global rainfall.
The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), an observatory built by Goddard, was launched into orbit in November 1997. TRMM is a jointly-sponsored project by NASA and the National Space Development Agency (NASDA) of Japan. TRMM is the first mission dedicated to measuring tropical and subtropical rainfall through microwave and visible infrared sensors, and includes the first spaceborne rain radar. TRMM's complement of state-of-the-art instruments will provide more accurate assessments. These new measurements will increase our knowledge of how rainfall releases heat energy to drive atmospheric circulation. Multi-year science data sets yielded by TRMM will be vastly more informative than any now available.
Additional satellites built for studying the Earth are soon to follow. Slated for launch in 1998, the AM-1 spacecraft is to characterize clouds, aerosol, and the Earth's radiation balance. AM-1 is to cross the equator in the morning hours. The Landsat 7 is set for a 1998 liftoff as well. It will study land surface features and changes using high-resolution imagery. A PM-1 spacecraft is targeted for launching in 2000, geared to study clouds, precipitation and radiative balance. It will cross the equator in the afternoon hours. Still other spacecraft are to be lofted in 2002, 2004, and 2006, each dedicated to studying environmental changes on Earth, both natural and human-induced.
Space-based observing of the Earth is generating a "rain of data"torrents of information that must be accessed quickly and easily by the scientific research community. Goddard serves as one of several Earth science data centers called a Distributed Active Archive Center, or DAAC for short. The Goddard DAAC's mission is to maximize the investment benefit of the Mission to Planet Earth activities by providing data and services that can help people fully realize the scientific and educational potential of global climate data.
Is the Earth in trouble? Goddard scientists will be gathering significant data gleaned from multiple spacecraft over the years ahead to help answer that question. By learning more about the hazards of global warming, rising sea level, deforestation, ozone depletion, acid rain, and reduction of biodiversity, better stewardship of spaceship Earth is possible.
We now appreciate that the key to gaining better knowledge of the global environment is exploring how the Earth's systems of air, land, water, and life interact with each other. This approach--called Earth System Science--blends together fields like meteorology, oceanography, biology, and atmospheric science. Understanding our changing planet can be expertly done from space. Land cover and land use change, seasonal-to-interannual climate variability, natural hazards research and applications, long-term climate variability, and atmospheric ozone are among the functions best served by spaceborne observation.
Goddard is also responsible for the procurement, development, and verification testing of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES). NASA also launches the GOES for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Not only is the Earth of keen interest to Goddard scientists and engineers. The center has managed the most challenging repair and service missions ever conducted by NASA, the highly successful flights to the Hubble Space Telescope. In February 1997, astronaut teams installed two new instruments and refurbished other elements of the orbiting observatory. In a few years, the Hubble Space Telescope will again be serviced, with Goddard managing the activity. Studies are also underway at the center focused on the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST), a 21st century near-infrared instrument. NGST will provide major pieces of the puzzle currently missing from the picture of the Universe, its evolution from the Big Bang to the current epoch. This powerful telescope, utilizing a host of advanced technologies, is expected to capture the light from the first stars and galaxies; determine the shape of the Universe and shed light on its eventual fate; map the chemical evolution of the Universe by observing the first supernovae; and observe debris disks around nearby stars.
Detector development at Goddard has enabled trailblazing research in accurately locating mysterious gamma-ray bursts, determining their distance scale, and measuring the physical characteristics of the emission region. Similarly, Goddard engineers have advanced far-infrared detector technology. The center's detector technology has been applied to medical instrumentation, with other commercial applications including industrial manufacturing, environmental monitoring, and agricultural monitoring systems.
Goddard Space Flight Center's vision statement is direct in purpose: "We revolutionize knowledge of the Earth and the Universe through scientific discovery from space to enhance life on Earth."