NASA's 'mission' to help combat climate change from space

ITV News' Chris Ship sat down with leading NASA officials on how the organisation plans to change the world's view on climate change

NASA's most senior official told News at Ten today that his organisation can make a difference to the world's understanding of climate change.

Bill Nelson, who himself flew into space in the 1980s, explained how being an astronaut gives you "a different perspective on the planet we call home" and made him more aware of the damage we are doing.

He said of the view of Earth from space: "It's so beautiful and yet it looks so fragile".

Mr Nelson, a former US Senator, is the 14th Administrator of the famous US space agency that first put a man on the moon in 1969.

The job title 'administrator' does the role an injustice, as it involves being in charge of the entire American space programme, as well as the vast amount of data it collects from up above.

Mr Nelson finds himself in London just as we are experiencing the hottest of hot days - the NASA boss acknowledged these extreme weather events are happening 'on the entire planet".

"You know, I actually became more of an environmentalist when I went into space", he told me, as we chatted at the American Embassy on the banks of the River Thames near Vauxhall.

He spoke about his spaceflight in 1986, seeing with his own eyes the colour change of the deforested land in the Amazon, and the silt pouring into the 'brilliant blue water' of the Indian Ocean, as they had 'cut down all the trees' in Madagascar.

'What I saw, I saw with the naked eye that we are messing it up', Bill Nelson said about the impact of human activity on planet earth, adding: "That's what made me want to be a better steward of what we have."

His deputy was sitting next to him as he spoke.

Colonel Pam Melroy is also a former astronaut, who flew three missions between 2000 and 2007.

She is one of only two women to command a space shuttle.

I pointed out that the United States was the world's second biggest polluter after China and she replied: "I think it's really important to recognise that the Earth is a system and so what one country does is not in isolation."

She added: "We have got to work together. This is one system and it's Spaceship Earth and we're the crew. And what happens in one country does in fact affect what happens around the Earth."

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The agency's current leadership pointed out that NASA has a "unique role", as it's satellites generate around 80 per cent of the data that is used to measure climate change.

Pam Melroy said it is NASA's intention to build models that will "help us predict what's going to happen in the future".

We might not immediately connect NASA's role with the understanding of the health of planet earth, but its current boss says he has a duty to tell politicians the truth about the climate emergency.

"I try to do that all the time, especially now in this position at NASA", Bill Nelson said.

The impact space travel has on the few of us who experience it, is called "the overview effect".

And NASA's chief explains it like this: "When I flew... I saw something different: I didn't see religious division. I didn't see racial division. I didn't see political division - all the things that bedevil us on the face of the earth. All I saw was, we're in this together as citizens of the planet".