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NASA to Conduct Agricultural & Earth Science Research in Collaboration with USDA

The MoU between the USDA and NASA represents a significant step forward in strengthening the partnership between these two agencies and preparing the next generation of STEM and agriculture professionals.

Shivam Dwivedi
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack (left), and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, pose for a photograph after having signed MoU, Wednesday, June 21, 2023, at the USDA’s Jamie L. Whitten Building in Washington. (Credit- NASA)
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack (left), and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, pose for a photograph after having signed MoU, Wednesday, June 21, 2023, at the USDA’s Jamie L. Whitten Building in Washington. (Credit- NASA)

NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have solidified their collaboration through the signing of a memorandum of understanding. This agreement aims to strengthen joint efforts in enhancing agricultural and Earth science research, technological advancements, agricultural management, and the utilization of scientific data and models in agricultural decision-making.

The partnership between NASA and the USDA aims to promote education, communication, and outreach activities to inspire American youth to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and agriculture. The collaboration will leverage NASA's Bridge Program, which focuses on developing partnerships with higher-education institutions, including Tribal and Minority Serving Institutions. In addition, the USDA's newly launched NextGen program, which allocates USD 262.5 million to foster the growth of diverse food and agriculture professionals, will be integral to the partnership.

The commitment between the two agencies highlights their dedication to equipping farmers with essential data and empowering future generations to lead and fortify America's agriculture industry. Administrator Bill Nelson of NASA emphasized the importance of NASA's Earth observation data in creating climate-resilient food systems. As climate change continues to affect agriculture, NASA's data will play a critical role in helping farmers develop sustainable farming and aquaculture practices.

The collaborative efforts will explore opportunities to improve crop performance to meet both Earth-based and space-related objectives. This includes supporting NASA's Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon and establish long-term lunar exploration as preparation for human exploration of Mars.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack expressed his enthusiasm for strengthening the partnership, recognizing the interconnection between global food security, climate change, and space. The collaboration between the USDA and NASA will advance innovation, research, and workforce development to address some of the most pressing challenges faced by our planet.

Space exploration cooperation between the USDA and NASA encompasses plant-related research conducted on the International Space Station and other space and ground platforms. These endeavors have yielded groundbreaking methods to enhance American and global agriculture, preserve the environment, and promote human health.

The memorandum of understanding builds upon the ongoing partnership between the USDA and NASA, which began in 2015. Some recent collaborative initiatives include:

  • Partnership with North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University: USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) collaborated with NASA to send 16 young individuals to NASA Space Camp in 2022. This program, held at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, enables participants to develop skills in robotics, teamwork, leadership, critical thinking, and experience practical applications of STEM.

  • Creation of the Crop-CASMA Tool: USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and NASA jointly developed a free online tool called Crop-CASMA. This tool assists farmers and researchers in utilizing soil data to track droughts and floods, plan crop planting, and forecast agricultural yields. The USDA incorporates this data into NASS's weekly crop progress reports, aiding farmers and farm managers in making operational decisions and formulating strategic plans.

  • Advancements in Plant Health Monitoring: Scientists from USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and NASA are working together to develop a hyperspectral imaging system. This system will enable astronauts to monitor the health of plants grown in plant growth chambers during space missions, ensuring the safety and quality of pick-and-eat crops, such as fresh salad greens. ARS and NASA are also collaborating to explore other sustainable methods of cultivating fresh food during space travel, including the continuous flowering and production of plants.

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