NASA Is Preparing for the Ravages of Climate Change

Da hurricane Ida landed in August, it buffeted NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans with rain and strong winds, shutting down power in the area, forcing the site to run on generators. No one was injured and no parts of the Space Launch System rockets manufactured there and planned for later lunar missions were affected. But more climate-intensified storms will surely come.

While NASA scientists naturally focus on space, everything they do begins on Earth. As long as climate change continues, everyone must prepare for the worst-case scenarios. Following a directive from the Biden administration, NASA and other federal agencies last week released climate action plans. They are mostly centered on adapting to a future where some climate change cannot be avoided.

“Our goal has been to drill down on all the different threats that any individual site may face,” said NASA senior climate adviser Gavin Schmidt, who contributed to the report. “We are one of those agencies that is not just a victim of climate change, but we are at the forefront of understanding climate change and bringing science to the table to help us make better decisions.”

NASA and other parts of the federal government tried to develop climate plans under the Obama administration, and they are now reviving this effort. NASA officials initially conducted adaptation assessments in 2011, which were updated in 2015, and are now being updated again. The Agency’s recently published report highlights five focus areas, including climate risk planning, as new missions progress, adapting infrastructure as much as possible and ensuring access to space, which can be disrupted if, for example, A flooded road delays the delivery of rocket fuel to a launch pad.

With about two-thirds of NASA’s assets within 16 feet of the ocean’s surface – including the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Johnson Space Center in Houston – hurricanes, flood risks and rising ocean levels leave much to worry about. “If we look globally and domestically, we have put very valuable assets, including runways and launch pads, into the coastal zone. I think NASA’s stepping forward with the precision of an engineering-oriented agency is very exciting to see, ”said Katharine Mach, a non-NASA-affiliated climate scientist at the University of Miami who served as lead author of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. assessment report.

NASA’s action plan outlines the cost of recent extreme weather events, likely exacerbated by climate change that comes with large bills for repairs. The Michoud Assembly Facility alone received nearly $ 400 million in costs after two hurricanes and a tornado. The recent hurricanes and floods also damaged other infrastructure, with several locations on the Gulf and East Coast each suffering more than $ 100 million dollars in damage. In Southern California, 2009 Fire Station burned down within one meter of the perimeter of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which had to be closed. As an inland country, the JPL could ultimately also have other climate issues to contend with, including drought and heat waves.

While NASA would only move buildings or launch complexes as a very expensive last resort, the agency is working more on “structural hardening”, making buildings better able to withstand extreme weather or loss of electricity so they can temporarily run off the grid. “It can mean raising the height, adding pumping capacity and setting up barriers. It can be about creating islands. It can be about creating autonomous infrastructure systems, such as self-sufficient energy production and redundancies, ”says Jesse Keenan, a social scientist at Tulane University with expertise in climate adaptation and the built environment. (Keenan is not affiliated with NASA’s report.)

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