Earthrise Alliance aims to turn data from space into a resource for climate action

Alan Boyle
During her stint as NASA’s deputy administrator, Lori Garver visited Seattle’s Museum of Flight in 2011 for a NASA Future Forum. (Credit: Ted Huetter / Museum of Flight)

Former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver helped lead the charge for commercial space ventures, and now she’s leading a brand-new space campaign to address the climate change challenge.

Garver is the CEO of Earthrise Alliance, a philanthropic initiative that will leverage space connections and satellite data get policymakers, educators and the public fired up about climate action.

She noted the connection between observing Earth from space and taking action on the environment goes back 50 years or so, to Apollo 8’s famous Earthrise photo in 1968 and the first Earth Day in 1970.

“Investment in space activities have driven scientific and technological advances that have transformed our understanding of Earth’s changing climate,” Garver said in a news release. “Earthrise Alliance was created to translate this knowledge into meaningful action and to inform critical decision making that supports and sustains humanity on planet Earth.”

That action includes pulling together satellite data from companies including Planet as well as Maxar’s DigitalGlobe subsidiary; working with partners including National Geographic and Schmidt Futures; and funding fellowships and awards to support education and public engagement on climate issues.

Garver said she had been thinking seriously about such issues even during her tenure as NASA’s No. 2 official, between 2009 and 2013. (She was also NASA’s associate administrator for policy and plans from 1998 to 2001.)

For decades, NASA has played a leading role in gathering data to support the scientific view that Earth’s climate is rapidly changing due to industrial carbon emissions.

“I believe in climate change. I’ve seen the data. I’ve been to Antarctica with the head of NSF [the National Science Foundation] during my time at NASA. It just couldn’t be clearer,” Garver told GeekWire. “How could I not be doing everything I could to help address that?”

After leaving NASA, Garver became the general manager of the Air Line Pilots Association, and in 2016 she helped found the Brooke Owens Fellowship program for women in aerospace. But when some of her contacts from the space community approached her about the Earthrise Alliance concept, and asked whether she was interested in taking on the CEO role, Garver jumped at the chance.

“That was an aha moment for me,” she said. ‘It was a good transition time for me … and I said yes.”

Other members on the leadership team include chief operating officer Cassie Lee, who until recently was the head of space programs for Seattle-based Vulcan Inc. and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation; chief technology officer Dan Hammer, former White House senior policy adviser; quantum physicist Edward Boyda, who will serve as Earthrise Alliance’s chief scientific officer; and Jason Kessler, former project director of Mission Control Earth and program executive at NASA.

Earthrise Alliance unites the efforts of Mission Control Earth, which has been a supporter of the Climate Modeling Allance, or CLiMA; and Earthrise Media, which is an Earth Genome project aimed at making satellite imagery available for humanitarian and news reporting purposes. It’s a philanthropic project of the Windward Fund as well as an initiative of Mountain Philanthropies.

Garver said she’s pleased to see how many organizations came together to forge the alliance. “It’s like there’s nothing but goodness,” she said.

She’s also pleased to be involved in a space venture that’s all about Earth.

“My interest in space, my policy positions, my drive has been around what we can do from space,” she said. “It’s never been about the rocket. … We really would not know as much about our changing planet, and how to help save ourselves, without having made the advances we made in commercial space.”

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