It seemed to be good to be true. Last fall, my friend and OpenGov colleague Ali Llewellyn shared with me that there was a group of NASA employees and contractors supporting an initiative to connect satellite resources to better the world. I had to know more.
A simple Google search uncovered a webpage for the project, known as SERVIR or, to serve, in Spanish. Here, I learned that the SERVIR initiative integrates satellite observations, ground-based data and forecast models to monitor and forecast environmental changes and to improve response to natural disasters. This enables scientists, educators, project managers and policy implementers to better respond to a range of issues including disaster management, agricultural development, biodiversity conservation and climate change. Principally supported by NASA and the US Agency of International Development, or USAID, a strong emphasis is placed on partnerships to fortify the availability of searchable and viewable earth observations, measurements, animations, and analysis.
Impressive, yes, but how do they do it and who are the people involved?This question and others I pondered as I drove to the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama to see the SERVIR coordination office and rapid prototyping facility firsthand.
Upon arrival, I was warmly greeted by the project director Dan Irwin, an energetic and articulate man who has committed his career to serving his passion for both those in need and leveraging the multitude of resources NASA generates in our quest to uncover the unknown. Over the next hour I had the honor of meeting his diverse team as they highlighted current projects and past accomplishments which had caught the attention and support of not only the head of NASA, but the US president and multiple dignitaries on numerous occasions.
Spanning three continents, several countries, and affecting thousands of lives, SERVIR’s reach is extensive and a result of well-conceived, sustainable efforts. Their latest project, ISERV: The ISS / SERVIR Environmental Research and Visualization System promises to be yet another win for social good.
This tool, scheduled to launch to the international space station on June 26th, is dedicated to assisting social innovators and emergency responders to accessing much needed data and imagery within 3 hours of a web or mobile app request. The ISERV Pathfinderis the first phase in an envisioned series of Earth observing instruments designed to leverage the unique attributes of the International Space Station in order to provide high quality data for science and disaster response at relatively low cost.
Pathfinderis a telescope that is ground commanded for pointing and image acquisition. Individual commands or command scripts are uplinked to the ISERV computer where they are executed at scheduled times. Data frames are immediately stored aboard the ISERV computer, downlinked to ground stations, and finally transmitted via Internet to the ISERV Science Operations Center at MSFC’s National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) who then pushes it to the requester. When complete, the ISERV suite could also include internal and external optical sensors operating in the visible, near- and mid-IR portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.
This effort was accomplished by a dynamic team of less than 20 individuals that comprise the Coordination Office, many of whom have personally founded nonprofits and spent time living and working in the regions they serve. Their offices are strategically located outside of the Marshall campus, thus allowing the group to receive employees, intern and volunteer support from individuals around the world who can offer relevant local perspectives.
Two SERVIR project regional operational facilities support the Coordination Office in 1) Nairobi, Kenya, at the Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) and 2) Kathmandu, Nepal, at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. A third hub, located at the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC) in Panama City, Panama, recently “graduated” from the SERVIR system and is providing information on its own. Each SERVIR facility is housed in an existing organization with a regional mandate, and the project is primarily staffed and operated by people from that region. Together, the SERVIR facilities form a broader SERVIR network with exchange of data, knowledge, and experience among the centers that transcends geographic and organizational boundaries.
Connect with SERVIR
While SERVIR boasts multiple successes, the group seeks to expand. Building and relying upon a network of collaborators is fundamental to SERVIR. Beyond the sponsorship and active participation of NASA and USAID, collaboration spans a number of other US government agencies and projects, as well as partnerships with government agencies in the regions in which SERVIR operates joint research with universities and non-governmental organizations, and capacity building with a host of specialized groups. SERVIR puts special emphasis on working with national space agencies to improve the discovery and use of available imagery. Collaboration also includes interaction with institutions that play important roles in relevant global research and operational activities (e.g., GEO, UN-SPIDER, International Charter, CIESIN, and IRI). Operational and implementation partnerships, too, are critical and have been established with SERVIR’s regional centers (e.g., RCMRD and ICIMOD) to deliver products and services and improve outreach to different thematic communities
In the future, SERVIR plans to augment data sets, collaborations, and opportunities receive requests and observations. We invite you to learn more about SERVIR, including opportunities to see the lab in action, request information, download data, collaborate, or to intern as a student researcher at: http://www.servirglobal.net/.
About the author: Samantha Lynne Snabes is an intern for NASA OpenGov with interests in social entrepreneurship and human space exploration.