Mission to Plane Earth


NASA's Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) is dedicated to understanding the total Earth system and the effects of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment. The MTPE Enterprise is pioneering the new discipline of Earth system science, with a near-term emphasis on global climate change. Space-based and in situ capabilities presently being used or developed yield new scientific understanding and practical benefits to the Nation.

To preserve and improve Earth's environment for future generations, governments around the world need policies based on the strongest possible scientific understanding. Commercial firms, natural resource managers, and educators rely on a dependable stream of this same new knowledge. The unique vantage point of space provides information about Earth's land, atmosphere, ice, oceans, and biota that is obtainable in no other way. In concert with the global research community, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administra-tion and the other agencies participating in the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the MTPE Enterprise is developing the understanding needed to support the complex environmental policy and economic investment decisions that lie ahead.

The EOS-AM1 spacecraft orbiting Earth The EOS-AM1 spacecraft (named to indicate its morning equatorial crossing time) will be launched in mid-1998. Its instrument complement is designed to obtain data on key parameters of global climate change: the physical and radiative properties of clouds; air-land and air-sea exchanges of energy, carbon, and water; measurements of important trace gases; and volcanology.

Questions to Address

MTPE addresses the fundamental question: How can we utilize the knowledge of the Sun, Earth, and other planetary bodies to develop predictive environmental, climatic, natural disaster, and natural resource models to help ensure sustainable development and improve the quality of life on Earth?


The goals of the MTPE Enterprise are as follows:

  • Expand scientific knowledge of the Earth system using NASA's unique vantage points of space, aircraft, and in situ platforms, creating an international capability to forecast and assess the health of the Earth system;
  • Disseminate information about the Earth system; and
  • Enable the productive use of MTPE science and technology in the public and private sectors.

This image of Hurricane Fran was taken from the NOAA/National Weather Service's GOES-8 (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) on September 4, 1996, at 1:15 p.m. EDT, less than 7 hours before the eye went ashore at Cape Fear, North Carolina. The image was enhanced and rendered at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Laboratory for Atmosphere, Greenbelt, Maryland. Image of Hurricane Fran from space

Strategies and Outcomes

To accomplish these goals, the MTPE Enterprise employs a strategy that establishes science priorities with near-term product milestones on a path of long-term inquiry; develops advanced technologies that lead to new and lower cost scientific investigations; promotes extensive international collaboration and cooperation with other Federal agencies; contributes to national and international assessments of the environment; fosters commercial use of remote-sensing data and leverages the resources of the commercial remote-sensing industry to lower overall MTPE costs; and strengthens Earth science education and public awareness.

Through 2002, MTPE will deploy the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission and the first series of Earth Observing System missions including Landsat 7. This period will also see the first launches of Earth System Science Pathfinder small satellite missions for new science and of New Millennium program missions for Earth science instrument technology development. These programs are detailed in the MTPE Strategic Enterprise Plan. The MTPE Commercial Strategy and MTPE Education Strategy outline our approach to partnerships in these key areas. MTPE is responsible for technology development needed to provide the next generation of Earth remote-sensing systems and is defining an MTPE technology strategy to guide technology investment choices. MTPE's participation in the New Millennium program is one example of the Enterprise's technology investment approach.

NASA's ER-2 aircraft NASA's ER-2 is the country's premier high-altitude civilian research aircraft. Flying in the lower stratosphere, it allows scientists to make in situ measurements for the study of atmospheric chemistry, such as ozone breakdown. It also serves as a testbed for instruments planned for future Earth-orbiting spacecraft.

The ultimate beneficiaries of MTPE are the present and future generations of the people on Earth. The primary customers are researchers seeking answers to key Earth science questions, commercial firms using MTPE data and technology to help their businesses grow, public sector managers exercising stewardship of our natural resources, and educators teaching the next generation of scientists, engineers, and citizens. The largest product of MTPE is a major contribution to the scientific foundation for public and private sector choices on the road to sustainable development.

Arrow pointing right with the word Roadmap

Roles and Responsibilities

The NASA Centers' primary missions to support the Space Science Enterprise are listed in the table below.

Center Mission
Goddard Space Flight Center Earth System Science
Jet Propulsion Laboratory Instrument Technology
Langley Space Center Atmospheric Science
Stennis Space Center Commercial Remote Sensing

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