NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to focus on Earth in 2014

NASA Director Charles Bolden

Grant Slater/KPCC

NASA Director Charles F. Bolden, Jr., listens during a tour of the clean room for assembling space vehicles at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La CaƱada Flintridge, Calif.

2014 will be the year of Earth Sciences at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden visited the lab in Pasadena Tuesday to check out a trio of missions slated to launch next year that will study our home planet.

The first to go up will be a project known as RapidScat, a device designed to attach itself to the exterior of the International Space Station. It will monitor wind patterns and storms as they develop around the world.

Like the name implies, RapidScat was built on a short timeline. It's been in development for around one year and was built with left over parts from a previous mission. The device will be ferried to the space station by the private company Space X in April 2014.

In July of next year, a satellite known as Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2, will launch. Its goal is to track global levels of CO2.

OCO-2 is meant to replace a similar satellite that failed to reach orbit in 2009. That one crashed into the Indian Ocean shortly after launch.

A mission called Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) is set for October 2014. This satellite is designed to track soil moisture across the planet and hopefully improve the accuracy of short-term weather forecasts and long-term climate change projections.

During his tour of the lab, NASA's Charles Bolden said JPL is best known for its work with far off planets, like Mars.

"Anytime we are doing planetary science, you know JPL is going to be involved in some manner," Bolden remarked.

But NASA faces a proposed $200 million cut from its budget for exploring other planets. Because of that, Bolden said, it's good that JPL is showcasing its strength studying Earth.

"I think the future here is pretty sound," he said.

Bolden added that President Obama has made Earth Science a priority. 

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