NASA, Forest Service Team On Fire Safety

Agencies sign a Space Act Agreement to formalize intention to continue to use images, research projects to promote wildfire prevention and fire safety.

Patience Wait, Contributor

July 2, 2012

3 Min Read

NASA's Blue Marble: 50 Years Of Earth Imagery

NASA's Blue Marble: 50 Years Of Earth Imagery

NASA's Blue Marble: 50 Years Of Earth Imagery (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

As wildfires rage in Colorado and other western states, the U.S. Forest Service has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to combine their efforts in fire prevention and fire safety.

The partnership focuses on other areas of common interest between the two agencies as well, including materials science and forest and plant growth research.

NASA and the Forest Service have collaborated for years in various areas of research and development, with NASA having a big impact on the Forest Service's ability to prevent and fight fires. For example, the Forest Service's early warning system, called ForWarn, uses NASA satellite imagery and other data. NASA's Firefly sensor uses infrared scans and satellite navigation to guide firefighting aircraft.

NASA also conducts experiments that contribute to fire detection and suppression. Also, NASA lift-support systems influence the design of firefighting gear and face masks.

[ Is your business disaster proofed? Hurricane, Wildfire Seasons Highlight Importance Of BC/DR Plans. ]

Images of wildfires from space can be used by firefighters to help control fires and by researchers to learn about wildfire patterns and behaviors. The photos of smoke plumes and fire damage, taken from 240 miles above the planet, also help raise public awareness of the effects of wildfires and the importance of forestry resource management.

Astronauts on the International Space Station have recorded high-resolution video and photographs of the wildfires in Colorado and Utah. Even before the agreement, NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, who currently is on the International Space Station, chose Smokey Bear, the Forest Service's mascot, as a zero-gravity indicator--which signals when the spacecraft reaches orbit--on his flight to the ISS.

NASA's Earth Observatory, part of the Earth Observing System (EOS) Project Science Office at the Goddard Space Flight Center, has been providing satellite images of the fires in Colorado as part of a regular stream of similar images from around the world, including fires in Siberia, Spain, and Wyoming. The Earth Observatory also has created an "aerosol map" that illustrates the spread of wildfire-related particles as they disperse in the atmosphere. The data used for the map was acquired from an ozone-mapping capability on NASA's Suomi satellite.

Apart from the NASA-Forest Service effort, Esri, a provider of geographic information systems to businesses and government agencies, has created a real-time map of the wildfires. It illustrates wildfire locations, wind and rain conditions, and wildfire potential, along with social media activity related to those happenings.

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Patience Wait


Washington-based Patience Wait contributes articles about government IT to InformationWeek.

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