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Who We Are.

The Science Directorate at NASA’s Langley Research Center provides essential science leadership to NASA with decades of intellectual expertise in the areas of Atmospheric Composition, Air Quality, Earth’s Energy Budget and Lidar Remote Sensing that supports Earth science, planetary science and heliophysics.

Langley has built a capability in suborbital and ground-based research that has been in high demand since the Science Directorate’s initiation in the late 1960s.

SD Flight Projects enable ground-breaking science through spaceflight platforms with a 100% instrument success rate for on-orbit operations.

What We Do.

We are committed to delivering science that is balanced between Research & Analysis, technology development, airborne science and flight development.​

We study atmospheres using active and passive remote sensing and in-situ measurements. Through our ground and flight hardware development, we infuse technology and gather science observations that produce knowledge, information and insight that informs policy and serves society. We create essential, global data records utilized by the international science community. 

We provide and maintain capabilities to ensure effective and affordable delivery of that knowledge.

SD Organizational Chart
Satellite Timeline

PROPOSAL DEVELOPMENT OFFICE

We support LaRC proposal teams as they prepare for, develop, and submit winning proposals. We work across all disciplines and Directorates, making the proposal process straightforward and efficient.

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2021 PDO Highlights
  • Bringing in new work to LaRC is a critical component of a successful business development process. In collaboration with business experts Shipley Associates, PDO developed a process, framework, and templates for capturing new business, from strategic positioning and targeting, to capture and proposal development. We created a tailored, but flexible, business development capture process to meet the unique needs of SD. +Learn More
Earth Science

Our Earth Science research stretches across four main areas: Air Quality, Radiation and Climate, Atmospheric Composition and Active Remote Sensing. In these areas, we are involved in a number of scientific initiatives, including advanced instrument development, field and space-borne experiments and data retrieval, analysis and archival. We also take significant pride in our ability to receive and share scientific data through the Atmospheric Science Data Center (ASDC). We further extend our research to the public through our efforts in Science Education.

Radiation and Climate
Understanding what’s changing our climate – and the implications for our planet.​
Air Quality
We observe pollutants around the world and provide scientific data used to study the impact on human health and agriculture.
Atmospheric Composition
We study the variations in and processes that affect aerosols, clouds, and trace gases, which influence climate, weather, and air quality.
Lidar Remote Sensing
We utilize Lidar technology on satellites and aircraft to learn more about our atmosphere, what’s in it, and how it’s changing.
+ View the Lidar Timeline

2021 Earth Science Highlights
  • We delivered a key part of the CLARREO Pathfinder payload, the Power Converter Unit (PCU), to the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) in Boulder, CO. We designed, built, and tested the PCU, which will serve as the power interface between CPF and the ISS, ensuring that the right level of power is delivered to the CLARREO Pathfinder payload. CLARREO Pathfinder will launch to the ISS in late 2023, where it will take measurements to help us better understand Earth’s changing climate. + Learn More

ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE DATA CENTER

Data products from satellite measurements, field experiments, and modeled data products create meaningful knowledge that inspires action by scientists, educators, decision makers and the public.
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2021 ASDC Highlights
  • In March 2021, the SSAI ASDC team released the inaugural version of the Sub-Orbital Ordering Tool (SOOT) to the public. This version introduced a Power User Interface (UI) intended for experienced data users and science teams with extensive knowledge of sub-orbital data. This tool supports data discovery while also promoting sub-orbital research and analysis within the Earth science disciplines of radiation budget, clouds, aerosols, and tropospheric composition. Visit SOOT online at: https://asdc.larc.nasa.gov/soot/power-user

APPLIED SCIENCES

NASA Langley contributes to NASA’s Applied Sciences Program, which helps people across the world use NASA data to solve big problems right here on Earth. The areas we support can help individuals and institutions improve our environment, food, water, health and safety.
Water Resources
Health & Air
Take a deep breath. It’s easy to overlook the importance of the air we breathe and its effects on our health — but it’s one thing our team is always focused on.
Food & Agriculture
The Food Security & Agriculture Program Area promotes the use of Earth observations to strengthen food security, support market stability and protect human livelihoods. Together with partners in the United States and around the world, we help bolster food security, improve agricultural resilience and reduce price volatility for vulnerable communities.
Capacity Building
We utilize Lidar technology on satellites and aircraft to learn more about our atmosphere, what’s in it, and how it’s changing.
+ View the Lidar Timeline
Disasters
Understanding what’s changing our climate – and the implications for our planet.​
Ecological Forecasting
We observe pollutants around the world and provide scientific data used study the impact on human health and agriculture.
Renewable Energy
2021 Applied Sciences Highlights
  • In 2021, with the support of the U.S. Department of State, DEVELOP continued its contribution to NASA’s multiyear effort to strengthen STEM foundations in Bhutan. The effort, titled “Advancing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math in Bhutan through Increased Earth Observation Capacity,” saw DEVELOP conduct five projects in 2021 that provided 21 opportunities for Bhutanese scholars to build analytical skills through the use of NASA Earth observations, as well as supported their professional development. These projects explored how satellite data could be applied to conservation, forest management, and crop monitoring.

SCIENCE EDUCATION

An interdisciplinary team of educators, scientists, technology experts and communication specialists collaborate with the education community to bring authentic Earth science practices and real-world data into the classroom. We create opportunities for Citizen scientists around the globe to participate in data collection and contribute to our understanding of the Earth system and global environment.
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Access Science Education Story Map

2021 Science Education Highlights
  • Members of the Science Directorate at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia were part of a team that won the 2020 Robert H. Goddard Award in Outreach for exceptional innovation reaching families and the public at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The award was given to team members and scientists involved in the GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to benefit the Environment Program) Program's GLOBE Observer app. The app allows citizen scientists to submit observations that benefit scientists who study different facets of Earth's environment, including clouds, mosquito habitats, land cover and trees. GLOBE Observer Clouds, which ran a community cloud challenge in 2020, is led out of Langley. Winners from Langley are Kristopher Bedka, Brant Dodson, Tina Harte, Ali Omar, Angela Rizzi, Tina Rogerson, Jessica Taylor, Patrick Taylor and Marilé Colón Robles. + Learn More
Beyond Earth

Our atmospheric research also contributes to planetary science, heliophysics & astrophysics through the design, development, modeling and simulation of Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) systems for Earth and planetary bodies, and also through our research on space weather and atmospheres of Terrestrial Type Exoplanets and planets.

2021 Beyond Earth Highlights
  • The critical issues of long-term change in the geospace environment evident in the SABER data were highlighted in this article, “An Observational Gap at the Edge of Space", that appeared in Eos, the periodical of the American Geophysical Union as the issue cover story and the lead discussion topic in the Editor’s introduction. The article also calls attention to the looming gap in satellite observations of the geospace environment and the need for continued observations to understand the extent and consequences of the long-term cooling of the upper atmosphere. Coincidentally, this issue also discusses a new type of aurora, known as the ‘dune’ aurora. SABER contributed to the analysis of the cause of these aurorae with the in a publication titled, “Large-Scale Dune Aurora Event Investigation Combining Citizen Scientists' Photographs and Spacecraft Observations.”

2021 PHOTO HIGHLIGHTS

NASA Honor Awards

NASA’s most prestigious honor awards are approved by the Administrator and presented to a number of carefully selected individuals and groups of individuals, both Government and non-Government, who have distinguished themselves by making outstanding contributions to the Agency’s mission.​

Individual Awards

James Crawford, Distinguished Service medal
Taylor Shingler, Early Career Achievement Medal
Claire Robinson, Early Career Achievement Medal
Lucia Lee, Exceptional Public Service Medal
Xu Liu, Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal​
Pamela Rinsland, Exceptional Service Medal
Daniel Zhou, Exceptional Service Medal
Amin Nehrir, Exceptional Technology Achievement Medal

Group Achievement Awards

DEVELOP Software Carpentry Team, Silver Group Achievement Medal
Earthdata Forum Team, Group Achievement Award

Lawrence and Reid Paper Award

Michael Pitts, Lamont Poole & Ryan Gonzalez for “Polar Stratospheric Cloud Climatology Based on CALIPSO Space-Borne Lidar Measurements from 2006 – 2017”

It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere!

When Close of Business hits, Science Directorate employees continue to make the most of their time. In these uncertain times, balancing work and life is key. Enjoy a glimpse into some ‘off hour’ activities.
2021 Highlights
  • Carey Plemmons uses her graphic design skills to enhance a photo of her at the Frisco Pier in the Outer Banks of North Carolina before the pier was removed. She titled it, “Standing on Stars.”

Air Quality Highlights

At any given time, there is a fire burning somewhere on Earth. NASA Langley’s Dr. Amber Soja joined NASA experts to take a closer look at how fires are part of our changing planet during a NASA ScienceLive episode titled, “A World of Fires.” As the climate warms, it has directly affected the way fires occur, with longer fire seasons and more extreme fires that are harder to suppress. With a fleet of satellites orbiting Earth, NASA has a unique perspective to keep an eye on these fires, the impact they have on ecosystems, and how smoke degrades air quality for local communities and populations downwind from biomass burning.

Watch: NASA Science Live: A World of Fires


A joint campaign led by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments and Air Quality (FIREX-AQ) is targeting broad questions about the chemical and physical properties of fire smoke, how it is measured and how it changes from the moment of combustion to its final fate hundreds or thousands of miles downwind. All of these have implications for public health. In 2019, NASA Langley contributed mission science leadership. The NASA Langley National Airborne Sounder Testbed - Interferometer (NAST-I) sensor was included as part of the aircraft payload for the ER-2 component. On the ground, the NASA Langley Aerosol Research Group Experiment (LARGE) operated a van full of instruments to catch the smoke as it settled.

Read: Tracking Smoke From Fires to Improve Air Quality Forecasting

Read: Through Smoke and Fire, NASA Searches for Answers


TEMPO (Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution), a NASA Earth science instrument that will dramatically advance our understanding of air quality over North America, secured a satellite host and ride into space with Maxar Technologies. In September, US, European and Korean team members for the planned new geostationary Earth observation satellites; TEMPO, the Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer (GEMS), Sentinel-4, Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory (GeoCARB) and the Geosynchronous Littoral Imaging and Monitoring Radiometer (GLIMR), met to foster the exchange of ideas on the upcoming Geostationary Air Quality Constellation. The TEMPO mission is a collaboration between NASA and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Read: Commercial Space Ride Secured for NASA’s New Air Pollution Sensor


Most of us don’t think twice about breathing. In fact, the average adult takes around 20,000 breaths per day. Understanding the air we breathe is essential to life on Earth. In 2019, NASA Langley’s Dr. Patrick Taylor and Dr. Jim Crawford were interviewed for a Health Journal article titled, “The Air Out There: Understanding Air Pollution.”

Read: The Air Out There: Understanding Air Pollution

For the past four years an international research team sponsored by NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been studying the Asian Tropopause Aerosol Layer (ATAL), an area of enhanced aerosol particles that appears in the summertime. Using balloon-lofted instruments, the Balloon measurement campaign of the Asian Tropopause Aerosol Layer (BATAL) has collected data to better understand this seasonal atmospheric phenomenon and its potential impact on water resources, ozone, weather and climate. In 2019, the team collected data on trace gases and the properties of aerosols and ice crystals. NASA Langley Research Center scientists deployed to India to understand how pollution in Asia is transported into the stratosphere during the active summer monsoon, an annual phenomenon that brings humid weather and torrential rainfall to India and Southeast Asia.

Read: Using Balloons to Track Pollution into the Stratosphere


Demonstrating new technologies is vital to progressing our knowledge and understanding in key science areas. In 2019, NASA Langley's High Altitude Lidar Observatory (HALO) and the Doppler Aerosol WiNd lidar (DAWN) flew on the NASA DC-8 as a part of the Atmospheric Dynamics Mission-Aeolus (ADM-Aeolus) calibration and validation mission, demonstrating a new water vapor profiling capability. Upon completion of the DC-8 flights, HALO also demonstrated the rapid reconfigurability of the system by reconfiguring from water vapor DIAL to methane DIAL measurements within a matter of days to support NASA's Atmospheric Carbon and Transport - America (ACT-America) campaign.

Read: Illuminating Gases in The Sky: NASA Technology Pinpoints Potent Greenhouse Gases

DAWN: NASA Testing Airborne Lasers to Touch the Wind


Dr. Laura Judd (NASA LaRC/SSAI) was selected to join NASA’s Health and Air Quality (HAQ) Applied Sciences Team as an Associate Program Manager. Entering this position in November 2019, Laura tracks and manages a portfolio of Health and Air Quality projects focused on the implementation of air quality standards, policy, and regulations for economic and human welfare. Additionally, she contributes toward strategic planning efforts for advancing innovative and practical uses of NASA Earth science data and capabilities to enhance decision making processes by public and private organizations.