Interior Department Plays Role in President's National Space Policy

International Affairs  Office of the Secretary
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Ron Tull:
On June 28th, President Obama announced a sweeping National Space Policy designed, the President said,

“to strengthen America's leadership in space while fostering untold rewards here on earth.”

With me today is Anne Castle. She's the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science,

who will speak about the role of the Department of the Interior in the National Space Policy. Welcome, Anne.

Anne Castle:
Thank you.

Ron Tull:
I think that it's fair to say that, for a lot of people who are current on most science issues,

it comes as a surprise

that the U.S. Department of the Interior has such an important role in National Space Policy.

Tell us more about that role?

Anne Castle:
Sure I'd be happy to. Let me set the stage with a little bit of history,

and that will make the new developments more understandable.

The Department of the Interior manages about a fifth of the land mass in the country

over 500 million acres.

and going back to 1966, Stewart Udall, who was then the Secretary of the Interior,

recognized the advantages that space-based earth observation

would give an agency that's charged with managing all that land.

Secretary Udall gave his full support to NASA's early efforts to build a land remote sensing program

and that's what today has come to be known as the Landsat program.

The first Landsat satellite was launched in 1972, and ever since that time,

Interior has managed the data and the science operations of Landsat from the

U.S. Geological Survey's Earth Resources Observation and Science Center

which is located in Sioux Falls, SD.

That's what we call the EROS Center.

So over the years, NASA and other governmental agencies that have space responsibilities

have recognized the expertise that Interior and USGS have in earth observation,

so EROS now manages the national archive for a whole bunch of different land remote sensing data sets, not just the Landsat images.

So for example, we manage intelligence satellite images that were originally classified but have now been made available for public use.

Now coming back to the National Space Policy that was announced on June 28,

that policy recognizes that unique role that the Department has played.

Policy directs Interior to conduct observations of the earth for many different scientific and operational purposes, including climate change research.

The policy specifically calls on Interior to work with NASA to conduct an operational program of land remote sensing.

Ron Tull:
So give us an idea then of how land remote sensing or, less technically, observing Earth from space,

actually helps the U.S. Department of the Interior do their job?

Anne Castle:
Absolutely, Interior's mission is using sound science to understand

Anne Castle:
and better manage our land and water, wildlife and energy resources.

So the Landsat satellites the Interior's now operating, that's Landsats 5 and 7, those are the ones that are flying now,

they give us both a broad view of the landscape,

a perspective of over 12,000 square miles per scene,

and a much more focused view.

They can actually accurately describe the condition of a land area that's as small as the infield in a baseball diamond.

So, from one instant snapshot from over 400 miles in space, a single Landsat scene can record,

hundreds of thousands of acres of grasslands, agricultural crops, or forests.

And Landsat captures hundreds of those scenes every day.

Those images tell us a whole range of stories about the state of the land.

We can see where vegetation is alive and where it's dead. We can see where droughts are occurring,

and where wildland fire is a danger, and where erosion has altered coastlines or river courses.

When we can see the earth's surface so clearly, and broadly, and objectively,

so we can better understand the land from a science perspective and manage that land

more efficiently for the benefit of the American people.

Ron Tull:
A central principle of the new National Space Policy is international cooperation in space.

Does the Department of the Interior have much of a record of international cooperation in space?

Anne Castle:
Well It doesn't seem likely, does it, that an agency named Interior would have

much of a record of international cooperation in space.

But the fact is, that we have a very well established record.

The Landsat series of satellites has long been considered a cornerstone of U.S. space cooperation with foreign nations.

We have approximately 20 nations on six different continents who cooperate with us in operating local receiving stations for Landsat data.

And Landsat has really become known over the years,

as a vital tool worldwide for understanding scientific issues related to land use and natural resources.

And now with its long term historical record of the whole globe and thevery high quality of the data,

Landsat is recognized all over the world as the “gold standard” of land observation.

So International applications of Landsat data are really everywhere

uses in agriculture, forestry, mapping,

we us it for land and water surveys, climate change assessment, and a host of other similar types of purposes.

Interior has a policy of releasing the full Landsat archive over the Internet at no cost.

And that's opened the door to a much larger pool of researchers worldwide.

In just the past two years, more than 2 million both current and archived images taken by Landsat

have been downloaded by users over the internet, and that's both in the United States and in 185 countries.

Now that researchers in all nations all over the world have access to this data,

it's bound to lead to even more applications that address environmental issues and disaster-related issues around the world.

Ron Tull:
Finally, Anne, let me ask you this, the National Space Policy commits the United States to utilizing space systems

“to study, monitor, and support responses to global climate change and natural disasters.”

So what is the future role like for the Department of the Interior under the National Space Policy?

Anne Castle:
Well, one of Interior's highest priority areas is addressing climate change.

And it's my very firm belief that Interior has a very vital role to in this area under the National Space Policy.

We've been operating LandSat over nearly four decades, and we've shown that we have the vision, and the desire, and the capability

to share the benefits of earth observation with a worldwide audience.

We're ready to do still more of that in the future.

There's really now a crucial need for broad, and effective, and holistic approaches

to both mitigate the impacts of climate change and to adapt to it.

and Earth observation provides impartial and reliable data

that we can use to build science-based models of all of our earth systems.

And when we have those models, that's the trusted type of science information

that will supply the foundation for decision making by leaders and countrys around the world and by citizens.

Decisions like increasing resilience and mitigating risk from climate change.

And that's a clear benefit to all of us.

Ron Tull:
Alright, thank you, Anne Castle, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the U.S. Department of the Interior

This has been a Podcast from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Geological Survery

I'm Ron Tull, Washington

Last edited 4/25/2016