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NASA Spacecraft Could Help California Address Drought

NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) spacecraft is slowly lowered into place in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

NASA/JPL-Caltech

A NASA spacecraft getting set to launch will measure soil moisture, one of the most important components of the earth's water cycle.

Soil moisture may not sound that exciting, but having too much or too little of it has tremendous consequences.

“Soil moisture affects plant growth, it’s the definition of agricultural drought," says Dara Entekhabi, the science team leader for the Soil Moisture Active Passive spacecraft, which is scheduled to launch on January 29th. "Depending on soil moisture a rain event can cause a flood or not cause a flood.”

Measuring it can also help predict the severity of droughts, which could help California manage water better.

“This would be the first direct look...looking at drought and understanding the anatomy of a drought," says Entekhabi. "What makes it prolonged, what are its regional variations and which regions come out of the drought first?” he says. 

The spacecraft is now at its launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base after traveling from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Once launched, it could start producing data within three months.