Center for Environmental Policy and Administration

NASA and the Environment: Science in a Political Context

Author:W. Henry Lambright
Date: September 2006

How did NASA get an environmental mission? What did it do with this mission? What have been the consequences for society—and NASA—of its environmental role? This paper examines NASA’s intersection with the environmental movement from the 1960s to the present. It looks at the impacts of the images of Earth taken by Apollo astronauts from the Moon and the rise of comparative planetology as a field. Its emphasis is on NASA’s direct role in monitoring Earth’s health via satellites. NASA played a pivotal role in the ozone depletion controversy that led to the Montreal Protocol of 1987. It has performed a key function in the global warming debate of recent years. NASA’s highly visible connection to environmental science and technology has enmeshed it in the political thicket—an important, but uncomfortable place to be.


W Henry Lambright
Center for Environmental Policy and Administration
The Maxwell School, Syracuse University
Revised 10/11/2006 10:37:40