We Get Support From:
Become a Supporter 
 We Get Support From:
Become a Supporter 

NASA Spacecraft Could Help California Address Drought


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


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. 


Amy Quinton

Former Environment Reporter

Amy came to Sacramento from New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) where she was Environment Reporter. Amy has also reported for NPR member stations WFAE in Charlotte, WAMU in Washington D.C. and American Public Media's "Marketplace."  Read Full Bio 

Sign up for ReCap

and never miss the top stories

Delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.

Check out a sample ReCap newsletter.