Status Report

Press Conference with USDA Secretary Ann Veneman and NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe Regarding the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on Collabo

By SpaceRef Editor
June 8, 2003
Filed under ,

Friday, May 30, 2003- 10:00 a.m.


DR. JEN: Welcome to this
signing event. I’m Joseph Jen, the USDA’s Under Secretary for Research,
Education and Economics.

Approximately about a year ago, USDA and
NASA established an interagency work group for remote sensing. The people
that, from the USDA side are Dr. Rodney Brown, Al Dedrick and Ray Knighton.
Since then, other people have been added to the group.

This group of scientists first selected
five focus areas that fit within the goals of the U.S. Government and
lend themselves to significant short-term achievements.

In March of this year, USDA and NASA held
a workshop with 150 invited scientists and program managers representing
thirteen USDA agencies and offices, more than twenty land grant universities,
NASA, USGS, EPA, to begin the planning of a series of collaborative research
projects within these five focus areas.

Today’s signing of a memorandum of understanding
between NASA and USDA moves us forward to even more joint activities that
will make earth science technology more available to agricultural applications.

It is now my pleasure to introduce my
counterpart from NASA, Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Associate Administrator for
Earth Science. I would also like to thank Dr. Asrar for serving as a member
of the USDA’s National Agricultural Research Extension, Education and
Economics Advisory Board.

DR. ASRAR: Thank you very much, Dr. Jen,
for your kind introduction. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I would
like to also welcome the members of NASA, USDA, and the media to this
historical event.

During the past year, as Dr. Jen stated,
the two teams came together to establish a set of common goals and priorities
for the two agencies toward the grand purpose of bringing in the technologies
that we offer, to put those technologies in hands of the practitioners,
to serve two purposes.

First, to help us improve the efficiency
of agricultural production. Second, to make sure that this knowledge is
extended to the hands of the users who could really be using this knowledge
to help improve the agricultural competitiveness, globally.

The spirit of cooperation between the
two agencies, as was explained by Dr. Jen, is captured in this memorandum
of understanding, that on one hand focuses on these five areas with a
set of tangible goals and objectives on the short-term basis, but also
leaves the door open for future areas of cooperation between the two agencies
as evidenced by more than 30 years of cooperation on research and development
between the two agencies.

So it is really exciting that not only
did we establish a set of near-term goals and objectives but we also left
the door open for future cooperation and future areas of priorities.

Indeed, the entire team of USDA/NASA is
truly excited about the opportunity to work together, to build a closer
partnership and that is clearly signified by the presence of Secretary
Veneman and Administrator O’Keefe this morning here.

Mr. O’Keefe joined the Bush administration
on inauguration day and served as a deputy director of the Office of Management
and Budget and deputy assistant to the President until December 2001,
when he joined the NASA family. Of course most of you know that he also
served as Secretary of the Navy during the previous Bush administration.

Over the past 18 months under Mr. O’Keefe’s
leadership, NASA has crafted a strategic plan that describes its vision
and mission for the 21st Century. Administrator O’Keefe’s leadership and
a steady hand has also guided NASA in one of, well, the most difficult
periods in its history in the aftermath of the space shuttle Columbia

It has been truly my sincere pleasure
and a great honor to work under Sean’s leadership, so please join me in
welcoming Mr. O’Keefe.

ADMINISTRATOR O’KEEFE: Thank you, Ghassem,
for that overly kind introduction. I appreciate it very much.

To you, Secretary Veneman, and Under Secretary
Jen, for inviting us to the Agriculture Department here, this morning,
and to mark this very important event that we’ve worked so hard, certainly
the two gentlemen to my right have done so, and Secretary Veneman and
I are just the beneficiaries of the activity that they have engaged so
much effort in dealing with here.

This is an important new chapter in NASA’s
relatively short, certainly tenure, as an agency in cooperation with a
long-established department of the Federal Government and certainly one
that we’ve continued for some 30 years, but taking it to new levels, I
think, that Dr. Asrar referred to, which is to specifically make available
to those who are the consumers and the users of this information the data
that we’ve analyzed and can make available for those advantages across
the board.

Certainly, when the public thinks about
NASA, you think about the pioneering work of aeronautics and space exploration,
and those are the primary efforts that come to mind.

But in many ways, today’s effort opens
a new chapter in the collective efforts between the Agriculture Department
and NASA to tap these unique perspectives offered by satellites, to help
American farmers produce food and fiber for the American people, and millions
of consumers throughout the world in an entirely different, more informed

Beginning with our cooperation in the
LandSat series of satellites that began in the 1970’s, we have worked
arm in arm to help pioneer the use of satellite technologies for resource
applications and better management of crop and rangeland, and with this
agreement we’ll join forces on a new series of programs drawing NASA’s
pioneering technology capabilities in monitoring, mapping, modeling systems
engineering to help protect the environment and enhance American agriculture’s
ability to compete in the world market more effectively.

Now based on some of the outstanding cooperation
between USDA and NASA, we have pinpointed five focus areas for additional
research and development of support tools and the application of remote-sensing
technologies. In these areas of carbon management, of agricultural competitiveness,
of air quality, of water management and conservation, and the management
of invasive species, which certainly is an element and an aspect of what
we’re capable of doing, as a consequence of satellite research, improvements
have been made that is quite novel today.

We know today, that NASA’s ability to
view the Earth from a unique vantage point of space provides useful data
to enhance the ability to protect climate, weather, natural hazards, as
well as mitigate and assess the effects of natural and human-related disasters.

That’s why our earth sciences enterprise,
and certainly under Ghassem’s extraordinary leadership, is working to
put in a flotilla of twenty-six Earth-observing satellites and developing
other technologies that will help provide scientists a solid foundation
for understanding the complex Earth climate system itself.

So our first goal and mission at NASA
is, of the three that we’ve adopted, to understand and protect the home
planet. And certainly it’s in the right and capable hands with Ghassem
Asrar, and with the expansive kinds of approaches that have been taken
in order to utilize these technologies for greater purpose, greater yield
and public advantage. And we hope that the relevant and concise information
provided by the satellites to our colleagues who are working with us,
hand in hand with the Department of Agriculture and other government agencies,
will help make the critical, accurate and timely decisions that enhance
the managements of the U.S. natural resources across the board.

In signing this memorandum of understanding,
and its specific projects, we also support the President’s management
agenda. By emphasizing the importance of integrated performance and budget,
it will improve those solutions to the citizens as it stands now.

So we have a winner all the way around
in terms of the approach that we’re taking with this particular effort.

The entire engagement here would not have
been possible, were it not for the extraordinary leadership of Secretary
Ann Veneman, as many of you know, spent her entire life working on food
and farm issues and advancing sound U.S. farm and food policies.

The President has often said that the
spirit of the American farmer is emblematic of the spirit of America,
signifying the values of hard work, of faith and of entrepreneurship.

In Ann Veneman, he has selected an outstanding
advocate for the American farmer whose tenure has been characterized by
her work to foster economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers, ensure
a safe and wholesome food supply, encourage conservation and environmental
stewardship, and to help develop the next generation of agricultural leaders,

much as we at NASA attempt to inspire the next generation of explorers.
So it’s a very close relationship in that regard as well.

I’d also like to thank Secretary Veneman for
the extraordinary effort on behalf of NASA through the Forest Service,
undertaken during the course of her leadership and as a consequence of
her direct interest in the real challenges we faced with the recovery
of the shuttle Columbia.

In the very difficult days following the
loss of Columbia on February 1st, and the heroic crew, the Forest Service
provided immediate and outstanding assistance in the vital recovery work
that went on over a 250-mile range in East Texas and West Louisiana.

Indeed, it’s a miracle that we were able
to recover the better part of 40 percent of the Orbiter, which is not
only something that is protected, and concern for public safety was enhanced
as a consequence of the diligence of the U.S. Forest Service team who
was engaged in this activity, but we’ve also been able to inform the investigative
effort in a way that we could not have done, were it not for the extraordinary
efforts on the part of thousands of U.S. Forest Service folks who were
engaged in the activity.

The long hours, the incredibly harsh terrain,
the really crummy weather conditions during the course of this past winter,
all of that made it an extremely difficult effort, but I had the privilege
of visiting East Texas and the Forest Service teams as well as all the
folks engaged at NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the better
part of twenty other federal agencies, state and local outfits, as well,
that were all engaged in the activity with my good friend, Deputy Secretary
Jim Moseley and with the U.S. Forest Service Chief, Dale Bosworth, on
at least one of those occasions, and we, I’m sure, speaking for Jim, as
I’m very careful to do but I’m confident in saying, we walked away extremely
impressed with not only the commitment but also the professional of the
U.S. Forest Service personnel involved there.

The best way to describe, Secretary Veneman,
their approach to how they adopted this particular challenge, and working
through the issues that were necessary in order to achieve the kind of
recovery effort that was possible, was members of the U.S. Forest Service
teams all wore shirts that Jim and I observed as we were there, that simply
stated “Their mission has become our mission” and, indeed, it
was the best example and the most extraordinary inspiring example of intergovernmental
cooperation, interagency cooperation, indeed, just among human beings
to accomplish the same objectives and absolutely no evidence whatsoever
of any of the usual challenges that accompany these kinds of relationships
on operational matters such as that.

It is with that kind of spirit that I’m
certain that this kind of relationship between NASA and the Agriculture
Department will be nothing more than enhanced as a result of this very
close kinship and association, as a result of not only success but also
in cases of tragedy in which we’ve helped each other.

So we within the NASA family are truly
indebted to the Forest Service team and to our colleagues from all the
federal, state and local agencies for outstanding and selfless efforts,
and I want to thank Secretary Veneman for her very important leadership
in making this possible during the course of it. Each time I asked for
any assistance, it was granted immediately and with great enthusiasm.
For that, I don’t even know how to begin to thank, Madam Secretary, you
for all of the effort and leadership that you employed in that case.

It is my privilege to introduce Secretary
Ann Veneman. Thank you.

thank you very much, Administrator O’Keefe, for being here this morning,
for your kind introduction and your excellent remarks. First of all I
want to welcome you all to the Department of Agriculture and thank you
all for begin here and participating in this historic event today. I want
to thank our Deputy Secretary, who’s here, Jim Moseley, Rodney Brown,
who’s been instrumental in working on this agreement and of course thank
the leadership of Joe Jen and Dr. Asrar for what they have done to make
this event happen today and this agreement happen.

“It is truly a pleasure to work
with Administrator O’Keefe as a part of the President’s team, particularly
as we work together to advance science and technology for the benefit
of all Americans.

“We really value the work that you
and your team at NASA do and what you do every day to push the boundaries
of human understanding.

“I also very much appreciate your
comments about our Forest Service employees and the role that they have
played in the recovery of the Columbia.

“Americans endured very much during
that disaster, and just like a family, we were determined to pull together,
united and stand with you in your time of loss.

“A century ago, the Wright Brothers
had not yet made their famous flight at Kitty Hawk that ushered in powered
flight, and eventually the space age. The gasoline-powered tractor was
still a novelty and would not come into wide use on farms for at least
a few more years. What a difference a century makes.

“Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture
and NASA take a big step forward in our partnership to bring even more
of the practical benefits of science and technology into agricultural

“In the 21st Century, cutting-edge
technologies such as biotech seeds, satellite imagery and e-commerce are
as vital on the American farm as cutting-edge technology is in the Silicon

“American farmers produce the most
reliable and most abundant source of food in the world, mainly because
of their ability to increase production while decreasing relative costs
of inputs.

“Most of these efficiency gains
are made possible through technologies, including better machinery, rural
electrification, advances in plant and animal breeding, agricultural chemicals
and animal nutrition and health care.

“Today, another technology revolution
is taking place that is helping to further lower costs and increase the
efficiency of farmers.

“Satellites provide us more accurate
weather and climate information with greater lead time in forecasts, and
advances in remote sensing are helping to move the concept of precision
agriculture from the laboratory to the farm.

“Precision agriculture or the ability
to look at precise areas of land on a more frequent basis is leading to
a whole host of technological advances for farmers, including monitors
and maps that can detect and record changes in yields, soil attributes,
or crop conditions, including pest infestations, and water or nutrient
stress. Geographic information systems and computer modeling based on
scientific understanding of plant and soil biotechnology, chemistry, and
physics to be used as decision tools for farmers.

“Technologies that use information
from sensors to vary the application rate and timing for seeds, fertilizers,
pesticides and irrigation water.

“Vehicle guidance systems, on-the-go
sensing for weed and pest populations, and the detection of crop traits
such as protein or oil content during harvest.

“We are even realizing that these
technologies can be used to detect manmade outbreaks of crop disease and
can provide a critical line of defense as we stand guard against any potential
acts of bioterrorism.

“Administrator O’Keefe briefly outlined
the cooperative efforts between NASA and USDA in the area of remote sensing.
While the benefits of these technologies are expanding, they still remain
in the hands of a few.

“It is our hope that this new partnership
with NASA will greatly expand farmers’ access to the vital data that they
need to give them a competitive edge, to make it both widely available
and affordable.

“American farmers and ranchers have
something of a home field advantage in that we have the best scientific
and technical information that is available anywhere in the world.

“At the same time, our nation and
others are working in concert to help ensure that the benefits of modern
agriculture will also be available to help in the developing world, to
help combat poverty, reduce hunger, and the social instability that they

“Such technologies will be
the focus of the International Ministerial Conference and Exposition on
Agricultural Science and Technology that the USDA is hosting from June
23rd to the 25th in Sacramento, California.

“More than a 175 ministers from all around the world
will come together to focus on ways to increase agricultural productivity,
reduce famine, and improve nutrition through the benefits of agricultural

“We are very pleased that NASA will
be participating in that conference with us as well.

“Precision agriculture, remote sensing,
and the technologies we were promoting through this collaboration with
NASA will be indispensable tools for the future competitiveness and success
of farmers here and in countries all around the world.

“With that, we will now sign this
memorandum of understanding that will help take this USDA/NASA partnership
to its next level. Shall we?”


DR. A”SRAR: Thank you for coming
to this event. This concludes this.

SpaceRef staff editor.