NASA Prepares to Track Our Water in a Whole New Way
Soil moisture is apparently NASA's secret weapon in a fight to better understand water availability and prevalence around the globe. That's why the space agency is prepping to launch its latest planet-monitoring spacecraft, designed specifically to measure this elusive factor.
The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) spacecraft was brought to its launch site on California's central coast on Wednesday to facilitate the final stages of preparation before it's sent into Earth's orbit.
"SMAP will provide the most accurate, highest-resolution global measurements of soil moisture ever obtained from space and will detect whether the ground is frozen or thawed," NASA reported in a recent release.
But why does NASA care so much about soil moisture? Compared to our vast oceans, natural and man-made reservoirs, and even the moisture trapped in our atmosphere's clouds, the water trapped in soil is just a single drop in the bucket.
However, according to Kent Kellogg, the SMAP project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, that drop can cause some pretty big ripples.
"Water is vital for all life on Earth, and the water present in soil is a small but critically important part of Earth's water cycle," he said.
Kellogg explained that by measuring soil moisture, NASA can predict the success of various agricultural endeavors, the ability of regions to support plant life, and even the rate at which natural groundwater will be able to recover in thirsty regions - if ever.
Coupled with data from the dozens of other NASA and international monitoring satellites in the sky, the agency hopes to also predict the severity and impact of encroaching droughts in the wake of climate change.
"The delivery of NASA's SMAP spacecraft to Vandenberg Air Force Base marks a final step to bring these unique and valuable measurements to the global science community," said Kellogg.
The spacecraft will undergo final tests this year and then will be loaded on top of a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket in preparation for a planned Jan. 29 launch.