NASA’s Earth Science Mission seeks to understand Earth’s systems and their responses to natural and anthropogenic (human-made) changes. A fleet of satellites in NASA’s Earth Observing System gives scientists the global, long-term measurements they need to connect the atmosphere (air), lithosphere (land), hydrosphere (water), cryosphere (snow/ice), and biosphere (life) as a single system.
Earth is currently in a period of warming. Over the last century, Earth’s average temperature rose about 1.1°F (0.6°C). In the last two decades, the rate of our world’s warming accelerated and scientists predict that the globe will continue to warm over the course of the 21st century. Is this warming trend a reason for concern? After all, our world has witnessed extreme warm periods before, such as during the time of the dinosaurs. Earth has also seen numerous ice ages on roughly 11,000-year cycles for at least the last million years. So, change is perhaps the only constant in Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history.
The greatest minds of the last century perceived wondrous things about the universe itself—the Big Bang and black holes, dark matter and dark energy, and the nature of space and time. Their theories challenge NASA to use its presence in space to put them to the test. NASA’s Great Observatories are taking us to the limits of the theories proposed by Einstein, Hubble, Spitzer and Chandrasekhar. We are now poised to move beyond. Having measured the age of the universe, we now seek to explore its ultimate extremes—its stupendous birth, the edges of space and time near black holes, and the darkest space between galaxies. Having exploited nearly the full spectrum of light, we will explore using gravitational waves in space-time. Seeking to understand the relationship between the smallest of subatomic particles and the vast expanse of the cosmos. Having discovered more than a hundred giant planets around other stars, we now seek to ﬁnd Earth-like planets in other solar systems. This is NASA’s science vision: the scientific exploration of our planet, other planets and planetary bodies, our star system in its entirety, and the universe beyond. In so doing, we lay the intellectual foundation for the robotic and human expeditions of the future. What follows is NASA’s plan for turning this vision into scientific discovery.
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