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Yesterday afternoon, the administrators from NASA and USAID signed a five-year memorandum of understanding that “formalizes ongoing agency collaborations that use Earth science data to address developmental challenges, and to assist in disaster mitigation and humanitarian responses.”In a presentation at NASA Headquarters, representatives described their two main collaborations: the SERVIR and Launch programs. SERVIR integrates NASA technology, mostly satellite imaging to monitor changing landscapes in around the world. Daniel Irwin, a scientist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the head of SERVIR, spoke about using such imagery to document deforestation, floods -- like the recent events in Pakistan, wildfire outbreaks and cyanobacteria levels. The imagery can be used to convince governments of ongoing environmental issues and create action plans. Irwin noted that monitoring harmful algal blooms from space has saved fishing industries $14 million a year. Similarly, an image that showed the political boundary between Mexico and Guatemala, solely by the deforestation occurring in Mexico, allowed those two countries to start talks on preventing further destruction.Image of fires in Nicaragua and Honduras from the NASA Aqua satellite, MODIS sensor, April 27, 2008. Credit: NASAThe Launch initiative, meanwhile, focuses on rewarding ingenuity to “identify, showcase and support innovative approaches to sustainability challenges.” One banner program, which will also present at one of the two Launch forums (Health and Water), is Medic Mobile. The initiative’s CEO, Josh Nesbit, and CTO, Dieterich Lawson, presented their work: creating an easy, inexpensive SMS-based system that connects clinics in developing countries. A handful of $15 cell phones, one $300 netbook with a GSM modem allows community healthworkers to get advice from doctors at the closest clinic 100 miles away and to streamline records by keeping them electronically. They’re even working on a $15 adaptor that uses a cameraphone to take pictures at the cellular-level -- allowing healthworkers to send images to doctors for advice on malaria infections, viral loads for HIV infected patients, and more. Both the Launch and SERVIR programs have been ongoing -- SERVIR was started in 2003 -- and no doubt this memorialization in the form of an MOU is a (smart) way to get some attention to the fact that NASA does a lot more than send astronauts into space.
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