At NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., Thursday, USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden and NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman signed a memorandum of understanding to bring the two organizations closer together in research and data sharing.
The details of the MOU are designed to help better protect America's working lands, predict and prevent natural disasters, and inspire young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and agriculture, USDA said.
"Space is a unique laboratory that can be a gateway to solving some of the greatest agricultural challenges of our time," Harden said. "This partnership is a powerful opportunity for USDA and NASA to yield new tools and techniques to help farmers and ranchers as they deal with the ongoing impacts of climate change and drought."
Among other things, the agreement will expand cooperation on space-borne remote sensing efforts to gather soil moisture data.
One potential outcome of the expanded partnership between USDA and NASA could be using satellite data to create a series of soil moisture maps for California that could be used to improve weather and water availability forecasting and provide a drought early-warning system to producers, particularly in California.
"There are many areas where NASA and USDA have overlapping interests," Newman said. "We can now better coordinate and build on the resources of both NASA and the USDA to help learn more about our planet's vital resources and inspire the next generation to become better stewards of our planet."
Under the new agreement, USDA now has expanded access to data from NASA satellites that will help Forest Service fire fighters and first responders better detect wildfires and predict their behavior.
USDA and the Department of the Interior have spent nearly $1.5 billion annually over the past decade on wildfire suppression, but this new technology has the potential to stop wildfires before they start, saving money, land, and even lives.
Harden and Newman were joined by California 4-H members at the Ames center, which is one of 10 NASA field centers; research has been conducted there for more than 75 years.
Harden highlighted the MOU's potential to introduce more youth to STEAM fields.
"Perhaps most importantly, this partnership will expose more young people to the power of science and innovation to solve some of the world's most pressing challenges," she said.