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Houston, We’re Here To Help Farmers

March 06, 2019 |

This article was originally published on

“Farmers irrigating their crops may soon be getting some help from space. In 2018, scientists launched ECOSTRESS, a new instrument now attached to the International Space Station. Its mission: to gather data on how plants use water across the world.

The ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) helps scientists answer three broad questions:

  • How do  respond to drought?
  • What’s happening with plants’  use over the course of a day?
  • Can vulnerability to drought be reduced through more monitoring?

“Technically, the instruments are measuring surface temperature, which reflects the heat stress of plants,” explains Joshua Fisher of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Fisher is the science lead on the ECOSTRESS mission. “By measuring the temperature, we are able to tell how much water plants are using. For example, if you have two plants and water one, the one that has more water will be cooler.”

The temperature measurement can be compared to holding a hand over hot sand at the beach. Even without touching the sand, a person can tell it’s hot. That’s the kind of energy ECOSTRESS picks up.

And the system is taking measurements at various times of day, thanks to the Space Station’s unique orbit. That’s important: Plants function differently throughout the day…”

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