NASA to States: Help Fund Program to Help You

NASA to States: Help Fund Program to Help You

By William Welsh, Staff Writer

A NASA program targeted to help states identify ways in which satellite technology developed for space and defense programs may be applied to problems facing state and local governments will need state and industry assistance to carry it from planning stage to the starting gate, according to agency officials.

At this stage, even planning money has yet to be resolved. Although the NASA State and Local Government Applications Initiative Program remains unfunded, both agency officials and state governors are optimistic that the program will receive support in the new fiscal year. After $600,000 was appropriated for fiscal 2000, Congress later redirected the money to other NASA programs it deemed more critical.

At this point, NASA has not yet set a specific funding level for fiscal 2001. If the program were approved and planning funds made available, NASA could begin implementing the program after Oct. 1, when the fiscal year begins, said Ed Sheffner, an agency spokesman.

This year's prospects have been boosted by the involvement of a group of state governors who belong to the Western Governors' Association, based in Denver. Collectively, this group is raising a loud call for the federal government to fund the program, which would provide state agencies with a set of technology tools that, when combined with other hard data, can be used for a variety of critical management needs ranging from natural resources to disaster control.

The WGA issued a resolution June 13 expressing the member states' strong support for the NASA initiative. The WGA plans to forward the resolution to NASA, congressional committees that maintain jurisdiction over the agency and the director of the Office of Management and Budget. The congressional committees are the VA-HUD and Independent Agencies subcommittees of the House and Senate appropriations committees.

"The governors want to signal their support for this," said Chris McKinnon, a program manager at WGA. "They are saying that the states have a need for satellite imaging and for knowledge about how to use it."

Specifically, the WGA resolution asks NASA to educate and train state agency personnel in these areas:

• Spread use of earth science knowledge, data and technology.

• Distribute annual summaries of NASA-funded research activities in member states.

• Streamline and simplify grant applications procedures for state and local governments.

• Help state agencies integrate earth observation data and related projects into state geographic information systems databases.

• Make data products derived from earth observation systems available to member states.

In publicizing the program, NASA is going to great lengths to stress that it will only assist states in identifying technology needs and will not be involved in technology applications and operations.

"NASA will work with the states to develop information projects that the states can use in making policy decisions," said Sheffner. "The operational work will be done by the states themselves, by commercial companies, or by a combination of those two," said Sheffner.

NASA and WGA are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding this month stating NASA's intent to share information and resources relative to satellite imaging and remote sensing technologies, said Sheffner. The NASA Office of Applications, Commercialization and Education of the Earth Science Enterprise would oversee the program if and when it is funded.

The U.S. Geological Survey conducted a demonstration at the WGA annual meeting in June on how satellite technology can be used to prevent and contain natural disasters. The USGS' Hazard Support System relies on data from weather satellites and ballistic missile satellites which ? along with other data such as lightning strikes, weather radar and wind velocity ? make it possible to detect and report forest fire outbreaks in real time.

"Any disaster agency would be interested in having these kinds of resources," said Darrell Herd of USGS, who made the presentation.

Although not as dramatic as natural disaster management, states can also use satellite technology for natural resource management, including water resources management, range land protection (i.e. eradication of invasive plant species) and protection of threatened or endangered animal species.

The Hazard Support System demonstration, which stopped short of actual operations assistance, typifies the kinds of efforts NASA has made to share information with state agencies off and on over the past 30 years, the agency said. Although states' experience with satellite-based technology is thin, there are many government contractors and systems integrators well-positioned to assist the states.

"Any [company] in the value-added industry that does space imaging and collects and processes data could do this work," Sheffner said.

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