Partner Profiles: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): Public Health Application Program
NASA's vision is to improve life here and their mission is to understand and protect our home planet. The Earth Science Applications theme contributes to the NASA vision and mission by extending the results of the Earth Science Enterprise (ESE) mission to improve predictions in weather, climate, and natural hazards through enabling and facilitating the assimilation of Earth observations and prediction outputs into decision support tools. The purpose is to enhance the performance of the decision support resources to serve society through Earth exploration from space.
NASA's Earth Science Applications theme benchmarks practical uses of NASA-sponsored observations from Earth observation systems and predictions from Earth science models. NASA implements projects that carry forth this mission through partnerships with public, private, and academic organizations. These partnerships focus on innovative approaches for using Earth science information to provide decision support that can be adapted in applications worldwide.
The ESE program focuses on applications of national priority to expand and accelerate the use of knowledge, science, and technologies resulting from the ESE goal of improving predictions in the areas of weather, climate, and natural hazards. The approach is to enable the assimilation of Earth Science model and remote sensing mission outputs to serve as inputs to decision support tools in integrated system solutions.
The outcomes are manifest in enhanced decision support and the impacts are projected to be manifest in significant socio-economic benefits for each of the national applications. NASA ESE has identified 12 national applications with partner federal agencies and national organizations that can be served by the results of NASA aerospace research and development of science and technologies through integrated system solutions.
Many chronic and infectious diseases are related to environmental conditions. Recent outbreaks of West Nile Virus and other vector-borne diseases have illustrated the importance of having accurate and timely information to predict and respond to epidemics. Organisms such as ticks and mosquitoes (called vectors) transport these diseases, and variability in rainfall and temperature has a major influence on the distribution and quantity of these pests.
High concentrations of ground level ozone, particulate matter, and/or other atmospheric pollutants can worsen respiratory diseases such as asthma and emphysema. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains decision support systems for public health that provide vital information on these conditions and allow for the prediction of disease outbreaks. These systems address the need for surveillance, or the ongoing, systematic collection, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of data regarding health related events for use in public health action. NASA's goal is to help determine how weather, climate, and other key environmental factors correlate with the occurrence of chronic and infectious diseases. Once verified, validated, and benchmarked, these relationships can be assimilated into surveillance systems such as the National Environmental Public Health Tracking (EPHT) Network to track and predict disease. Other partners, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are part of this effort.
NASA's satellites offer a wealth of information for input into the decision support systems used for public health. The Terra and Aqua missions return information on such factors as vegetation, forests, flooding, wetlands, soil moisture, surface ultraviolet radiation and surface temperatures. For example, both Terra and Aqua carry the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), which contributes important information on weather and climate contributions favorable to vectors. In addition, the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) also provides important data on precipitation, which can be used to study different habitats.
More missions are planned for the future that will return information related to public health issues, most notably the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission and the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS).
CDC and NASA have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to explore the use of earth systems science technology and data for characterizing the relationship between environmental hazards, human exposures, and potential health effects for the National EPHT Network.
Highlights of NASA and CDC collaborations include the following:
Conduct meetings and share knowledge necessary to evaluate the use of
NASA earth system science, technology, and data as potential solutions
to characterizing high priority environmental hazards and other risk
factors to be measured and tracked by CDC.
• Identify public health and earth system science education, training, and communication needs to strengthen collaboration.
• Jointly develop and disseminate public messages to promote collaborative activities.
• Work together to verify, validate, and establish potential solutions identified during collaborations.
• Establish an interagency working group to accelerate the development, evaluation, and use of earth system science, technology, and data for environmental public health.
To learn more about NASA’s Public Health Applications Program, visit:
2009 Update MOU Agreement [PDF 68 KB]
To read the MOU in its entirety, visit:
To view a press release from NASA regarding the signing of the MOU,
John A. Haynes
Public Health Applications Program
300 East Street SW
Washington, DC 20546-0001