The View from Space

NASA's Evolving Struggle to Understand Our Home Planet

Richard Leshner and Thor Hogan

In 1990, NASA began developing Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE), an initiative aimed at using satellites to study the planet’s environment from space. With the Earth Observing System (EOS) as its technological cornerstone, MTPE’s main goal was to better understand fundamental processes such as climate change. The View from Space tells the remarkable story of this unprecedented convergence of science, technology, and policy in one of the most significant “Big Science” programs in human history.

Richard B. Leshner and Thor Hogan offer an engrossing behind-the-scenes look at how and why NASA managed to make an aggressive earth science research program part of the national agenda—an accomplishment made possible by the pragmatic and assertive efforts of the earth science community. This is the first book to focus on describing and analyzing the historical evolution of the MPTE/EOS initiative from its formative years in the 1980s to its political and technical struggles in the 1990s to its scientific successes in the 2000s. Though detailed in its coverage of science and technology, The View from Space is primarily concerned with questions of policy—specifically, how MTPE/EOS came to be, how it developed, and how its proponents navigated the fraught politics of the time. Compelling in its own right, this in-depth history of the initiative is also a valuable object lesson in how political, technical, and scientific infighting can shape a project of such national and global consequence—particularly in the age of climate change.

“For anyone interested in how America’s civilian space agency became a critical force in advancing earth science, including climate change research, The View from Space is essential reading. The authors provide a comprehensive policy history of the evolution of NASA’s Earth Observing System and the politics that made it possible.”

—W. Henry Lambright, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University

“As humanity grapples with its epochal impacts on the planetary environment, a network of NASA satellites beams down data about the wide-ranging effects of global climate change. This Earth Observing System (EOS), first envisioned in the 1980s, provides the critical view from space that Richard Leshner and Thor Hogan cover in this important study. Their detailed analysis of the policymaking process that culminated in NASA’s multibillion dollar EOS also provides a revealing view from Earth of the institutional players who worked hard on the ground—and will have to continue to do so—to ensure the United States invests in essential space-based environmental research.”

—James Spiller, author of Frontiers for the American Century: Outer Space, Antarctica, and Cold War Nationalism

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About the Author

Richard B. Leshner is vice president of government and regulatory affairs at Planet Labs, Inc., in Washington, DC. He worked for nearly a decade at NASA headquarters and served as a senior policy analyst for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from 2009–2011.

Thor Hogan is an associate professor of politics and environmental sustainability at Earlham College in Indiana. He was formerly director of the Space Policy Project at the RAND Corporation’s Science and Technology Policy Institute. He is the author of Hydrocarbon Nation: How Energy Security Made Our Nation Great and Climate Security Will Save Us and Mars Wars: The Rise and Fall of the Space Exploration Initiative.

Additional Titles in the Environment and Society Series