NASA Leadership to Participate in Global Climate Change Conference
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson delivers remarks before the ribbon cutting ceremony to open NASA’s Earth Information Center, Wednesday, June 21, 2023, at the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building in Washington. The Earth Information Center is new immersive experience that combines live data sets with cutting-edge data visualization and storytelling to allow visitors to see how our planet is changing.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and other agency leaders will participate in the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP28) beginning Thursday, Nov. 30, through Tuesday, Dec.12, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
This global conference brings together countries committed to addressing climate change, which is a key priority for the Biden-Harris Administration and NASA. For the first time, a NASA administrator will attend, joining an expected 70,000 participants, world leaders, and representatives from nearly 200 countries.
Throughout the conference, parties will review the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol and, also for the first time, provide a comprehensive assessment of progress since adopting the Paris Agreement.
In addition to Nelson, NASA participants in the conference include:
Kate Calvin, NASA’s chief scientist and senior climate advisor
Susie Perez Quinn, NASA’s chief of staff
Karen St. Germain, director, NASA Earth Science Division
Nadya Vinogradova Shiffer, program scientist, ocean physics, NASA Earth Science Division
Laura Rogers, associate program manager, ecological conservation, NASA Langley Research Center
Wenying Su, senior research scientist, climate science, NASA Langley Research Center
Ben Hamlington, research scientist, sea level and ice, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
During the conference, Nelson will participate in the first Space Agency Leaders’ Summit, which aims to demonstrate a collective commitment toward strengthening global climate initiatives and promoting sustainable space operations.
Throughout the conference, NASA leaders also will participate in additional events and presentations at the NASA Hyperwall, a main attraction at the U.S. Center showing how the agency’s climate science and research helps model and predict ocean health, heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and droughts, among its other Earth-related research. NASA will provide a hyperwall presentation every day, some with interagency partners, between Sunday, Dec. 3, and Monday, Dec. 11.
Climate adaptation and mitigation efforts require robust climate observations and research. NASA’s unique vantage point from space provides critical information to advance understanding of our changing planet. With more than two dozen satellites and instruments in orbit, NASA’s climate data – which is openly and freely available to anyone – provides insight on how the planet is changing and measure key climate indicators, such as greenhouse gas emissions, rising sea level and clouds, and precipitation.
A full schedule of U.S. Center events at COP28 is available at:
The spectacular aurora borealis, or the “northern lights,” over Canada is sighted from the space station near the highest point of its orbital path. The station’s main solar arrays are seen in the left foreground.
The aurora borealis adds a bit of flair to our home planet in this image taken from the International Space Station on Sept. 15, 2017. This phenomenon happens because the Sun bathes Earth in a steady stream of energetic particles, magnetic fields and radiation that can stimulate our atmosphere and light up the night sky. When this happens in the Southern Hemisphere, it is called aurora australis.
Astronaut John W. Young (left), STS-9 crew commander; and Ulf Merbold, payload specialist, enjoy a meal in the middeck of the Earth-orbiting Space Shuttle Columbia. Merbold is a physicist from the Federal Republic of Germany, representing the European Space Agency (ESA) on this 10-day flight.
Forty years ago, in 1983, the Space Shuttle Columbia flew its first international spaceflight, STS-9. The mission included—for the first time—the European Space Agency’s Spacelab pressurized module and featured more than 70 experiments from American, Canadian, European, and Japanese scientists. Europeans were particularly proud of this “remarkable step” because “NASA, the most famous space agency on the globe,” included the laboratory on an early Shuttle mission. NASA was equally thrilled with the Spacelab and called the effort “history’s largest and most comprehensive multinational space project.” The Spacelab became a unifying force for all the participating nations, scientists, and astronauts. As explained by one of the mission’s payload specialists, Ulf Merbold, while the principal investigators for the onboard experiments might be British or French, “there is no French science, and no British science [on this flight]. Science in itself is international.” Scientists flying on the mission, and those who had experiments on board, were working cooperatively for the benefit of humanity. As then Vice-President George H. W. Bush explained, “The knowledge Spacelab will bring back from its many missions will belong to all mankind.”1
The knowledge Spacelab will bring back from its many missions will belong to all mankind.
George H. W. Bush
U.S. Vice President (1981–1989)
Training for the flight required international cooperation on an entirely new scale for the American space program. Today it is not unusual to hear about an astronaut training for spaceflight at many different locations and facilities across the globe. NASA’s astronauts have grown accustomed to training outside of the United States for months at a time before flying onboard the International Space Station, but that was not the experience for most of NASA’s flight crews in the agency’s early spaceflight programs. Mission training mainly took place in Houston at the Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center) and in Florida at the Cape. The Apollo-era featured only one international flight, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), with astronauts training in the two participating nations: the USSR and the United States.
Pictured from the left are astronaut Owen K. Garriott, Vice President George Bush, and Ulf Merbold of West Germany, inside Spacelab in the Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center. This European-built orbital laboratory was formally dedicated on February 5, 1982. Merbold was one of the payload specialists on the first Spacelab flight STS-9, that launched November 28, 1983. Spacelab was a reusable laboratory that allowed scientists to perform various experiments in microgravity while orbiting Earth. Designed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and mounted in NASA’s Space Shuttle cargo bay, Spacelab flew on missions from 1983 to 1997.
It also rarely makes news these days when someone who is not a professional astronaut or cosmonaut flies in space. In the past, flying in space was a professional occupation. This all changed with the development of the Space Shuttle and Spacelab, which birthed a new space traveler: the payload specialist. The individuals selected for these positions were not career astronauts. The payload specialists were experts on a specific payload or an experiment, and during the early years of the Space Shuttle program came from a wide variety of backgrounds: the Air Force, Congress, industry, and even the field of education. The principal investigators for this science-based mission selected the payload specialists who flew in space and operated their experiments. Spacelab 1 was unique in providing the first opportunity for a non-American, a European, to fly onboard a NASA spacecraft.
In the summer of 1978, NASA chose scientist-astronauts Owen K. Garriott and Robert A. R. Parker as mission specialists for the Spacelab 1 crew. Garriott, who had been selected as an astronaut in 1965, had flown on America’s first space station as a member of the Skylab 3 crew, a team that exceeded all expectations of flight planners and principal investigators. Parker had also applied to be a scientist-astronaut and was selected in 1967. His class jokingly called themselves the “XS-11” [pronounced excess-eleven], because they had been told there was no room for them in the corps and they would not fly in space, not immediately anyway. Parker worked on Skylab as the program scientist, but once the program ended, he accepted a new title: chief of the Astronaut Office Science and Applications Directorate, where he spent the next few years working on Spacelab matters. It was perfect timing for the astronaut to turn his attention to this international program. Once Skylab ended in 1974, representatives of Europe’s Space Research Organization (ESRO) and members of ERNO, the Spacelab contractor, started traveling to Houston and Huntsville to give the two NASA centers updates on the development of the Spacelab and to hold discussions on the module. In a 1974 press conference, ESRO’s Heinz Stoewer emphasized the “very intense cooperation,” he witnessed “with our friends here in the United States in making this program come true.”2
Around the same time, as Spacelab was being built, the European Space Agency (ESA) began considering who might fly on that first flight. Three days before Christmas in 1977, ESA released the names of their four payload specialist candidates: Wubbo Ockels, Ulf Merbold, Franco Malerba, and Claude Nicollier. Two Americans, Byron K. Lichtenberg and Michael L. Lampton, were selected in the summer of 1978 as potential payload specialists.3
The Spacelab 1 payload crew, which operated the module and the mission’s experiments in the payload bay of the Orbiter, included two mission specialists, Garriott and Parker, and two payload specialists, one from the United States and another from the European Space Agency. The payload crew and their backups began training many years before the Space Shuttle Columbia launched into space on STS-9. (The original launch date of December 1980 kept slipping so the crew ended up training for five years.)4 Training in Europe began in earnest in 1978, while training in the United States and Canada began in 1979.5 Merbold was eventually selected to fly on the mission along with Lichtenberg. The entire payload crew spent so much of their time travelling to Europe that John W. Young, who was then chief of the Astronaut Office, called their flight assignment and European training, which involved travel to exotic locations like Rome, Italy, “a magnificent boondoggle. In my next life,” he declared, “I’ll be an MS [mission specialist] on S Lab [Spacelab].”6
Spacelab-1 prime and back-up science crew members: Mission Specialists Robert Parker and Owen Garriott, with Payload Specialist-1 Ulf Merbold, backup Payload Specialist-2 Michael Lampton, backup Payload Specialist-1 Wubbo Ockels and Payload Specialist-2 Byron Lichtenberg.
Lichtenberg recalled the science crew, the prime and backup payload specialists and mission specialists, traveled the globe “like itinerant graduate students … to study at the laboratories of the principal investigators and their colleagues.” In these laboratories, universities, and at research centers across Europe, Canada, and Japan, they learned about the equipment and experiments, including how to repair the hardware if something broke or failed in flight. Lichtenberg felt like he was earning multiple advanced degrees in the fields of astronomy and solar physics, space plasma physics, atmospheric physics, Earth observations, life sciences, and materials science. The benefits of training were numerous, but perhaps the most important were the personal and professional relationships that were built with the investigators from across the world and with his crewmates.7
For the payload specialists, building relationships within the astronaut corps proved to be more complicated. Merbold recalled traveling to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama and receiving a warm welcome. “But in Houston you could feel that not everyone was happy that Europe was involved. Some also resented the new concept of the payload specialist ‘astronaut scientist,’ who was not under their control like the pilots. We were perceived to be intruders in an area that was reserved for ‘real’ astronauts.” As an example, the European astronauts could not use the astronaut gym or take part in T-38 flight training. Over time, attitudes changed, and Garriott credited STS-9 Mission Commander John Young with the shift, and so did Merbold. As the crew was preparing to fly, the former moonwalker took Merbold on a T-38 ride, and when the payload specialist asked if he could fly the plane, Young willingly offered him the opportunity. After that flight, Merbold recalled that he “enjoyed John Young’s unqualified support.”8
Friendships blossomed on the six man-crew. Parker called Pilot Brewster H. Shaw and Commander Young “two of [his] best friends to this day.”9 For Merbold, the flight cemented a significant bond between the STS-9 astronauts. He had “no brothers, no sisters,” he was an only child, but the Columbia crew became his family. “My brothers are those guys with whom I trained and flew,” he said.10 Young and Merbold had an especially close bond. Garriott saw that relationship up close on the Shuttle, and later told an oral historian, “Young had no better friend on board our flight than Ulf Merbold.” The two remained close until Young’s death.11
Four of the STS-9 crewmembers enjoying a rare moment of collective fun inside the Spacelab module onboard the Columbia. Left to right are Byron K. Lichtenberg, Ulf Merbold, Robert A. R. Parker, and Owen K. Garriott. The “card table” here is the scientific airlock hatch, and the “cards” are the targets used in the Awareness of Position experiment.
Following landing, Flight Crew Operations Directorate Chief George W.S. Abbey told the crew that the science community was “very pleased.”12 The first international spaceflight since ASTP brought scientists, astronauts, and space agencies from across the globe together, laying the foundation for bringing Europe into human spaceflight operations and kicking off a different approach to training and performing science in space. As Spacelab 1 Mission Manager Henry G. Craft and Richard A. Marmann explained, the program “exemplified what can be accomplished when scientists and engineers from all over the world join forces, communicating and cooperating to further advance scientific intelligence.”13 Eventually, the international cooperation Craft and Marmann witnessed led to today’s highly successful International Space Station Program.
JSC News Release, “Mission Specialists for Spacelab 1 Named at JSC,” 78-34, August 1, 1978; Robert A.R. Parker, interview by author, October 23, 2002, transcript, JSC Oral History Project; “Europeans To Fly Aboard Shuttle,” Roundup, March 29, 1974, 1.
“Four European Candidates Chosen for First Spacelab Flight,” ESA Bulletin (February 1978), no. 12: 62; “Two US scientists selected Spacelab payload specialists,” Roundup, June 9, 1978, 4.
In the crew report, Parker counted his time monitoring the Spacelab, so he concluded that the mission specialists trained even longer, from 5 to 9 years.
“Spacelab Scientists Tour USA,” Space News Roundup, January 12, 1979, 1.
Harry G. Craft, Jr. to George W.S. Abbey, February 25, 1982, Spacelab 1 Payload Crew Experiment Training Requirements, Robert A.R. Parker Papers II, Box 28, JSC History Collection, University of Houston-Clear Lake.
Byron Lichtenberg, “A New Breed of Space Traveller [sic],” New Scientist, August 1984, 9.
Jennifer Ross-Nazzal is the NASA Human Spaceflight Historian. She is the author of Winning the West for Women: The Life of Suffragist Emma Smith DeVoe and Making Space for Women: Stories from Trailblazing Women of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
El astronauta de la NASA Frank Rubio, quien batió récords con su reciente misión, es el presentador de un video con el primer tour narrado en español creado por la agencia del hogar de la humanidad en el espacio: la Estación Espacial Internacional.
Rubio da la bienvenida al público a bordo de este laboratorio científico en microgravedad para compartir una mirada tras bastidores a la vida y el trabajo en el espacio. El astronauta grabó el tour durante su misión de 371 días en la estación espacial, la cual constituyó el vuelo espacial individual más largo realizado por un estadounidense.
El video con el recorrido por la estación está disponible en el servicio de transmisión NASA+ de la agencia, en la aplicación de la NASA, en NASA Television, y en el canal de YouTube en español y el sitio web de la agencia.
Habitada de forma ininterrumpida desde hace más de 23 años, la estación espacial es una plataforma científica única donde los miembros de la tripulación realizan experimentos en diferentes disciplinas de investigación, incluyendo las ciencias de la Tierra y el espacio, la biología, la fisiología humana, las ciencias físicas y demostraciones tecnológicas que no podrían llevarse a cabo en la Tierra.
La tripulación que vive a bordo de la estación sirve como las manos de miles de investigadores en tierra quienes realizan más de 3.300 experimentos en microgravedad. Durante su misión récord, Rubio dedicó muchas horas a contribuir a las actividades científicas a bordo del laboratorio orbital, llevando a cabo desde estudios sobre la salud humana hasta investigaciones con plantas.
Rubio regresó a la Tierra en septiembre de 2023, después de haber completado unas 5.936 órbitas alrededor de la Tierra y un viaje de más de 253 millones de kilómetros (157 millones de millas) durante su primer vuelo espacial, una distancia más o menos equivalente a 328 viajes de ida y vuelta a la Luna.
Recibe las últimas noticias, imágenes y artículos de la NASA sobre la estación espacial a través de sus cuentas en inglés de Instagram, Facebook y X o sus cuentas en español de Instagram, Facebook y X de la agencia.
Mantente al día sobre la Estación Espacial Internacional, sus investigaciones y su tripulación en el sitio web en inglés: