Ernie Hilsenrath spent more than 40 years working for NASA, and though he officially retired a few years ago, he is still a great advocate for his employer and for science. The longtime atmospheric chemist is both amazed and troubled by how few people know that NASA works in Earth science. He is equally troubled by all of the misinformation and misunderstanding in the public discourse about our planet.
“I have met many educated people who did not know that NASA runs Earth-observing missions,” said Hilsenrath, who served as deputy project scientist and program scientist for the Aura satellite mission. “They know about going to the Moon and Hubble and astronauts and Mars rovers. But many don’t know that NASA is out there watching this planet, gathering important data about Earth systems and the quality of our environment.”
He decided to do something about it. Working with his nearby county college, local civic groups in Maryland, and several NASA colleagues, Hilsenrath has organized two public science events for this week. During “Observations from Space: Earth and Climate Change,” NASA scientists will present the latest data and images from Earth-observing satellites and then have an interactive discussion about climate change.
The first event will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21, and it will be geared toward students from Howard Community College and local high schools. The second forum is open to the public and will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 24. Both free events will be held at Howard Community College, which is sponsoring the event along with the Climate Change Initiative of Howard County, Howard County’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, and NASA.
“In recent years, people have drifted away from seeing our environment and climate as a priority,” Hilsenrath noted. “I would like to raise some awareness and nudge people back to caring about it. There are some uncertainties and unknowns, but there is a lot more convincing data — non-partisan data — about real and measurable changes.”
If you cannot make it in person, both events will be shown via webcast. Visit http://aura.gsfc.nasa.gov/20120321hcc.html for more information.