NASA to study its place in Digital Earth

Digital Earth home page

NASA has commissioned a series of studies to better ascertain its responsibilities

in the multiagency Digital Earth program, which the space agency leads.

Digital Earth is expected to encompass all the geological, geographical

and demographic information collected about Earth and its inhabitants. But

the initiative is more than a mapping application. It has the potential

to become a framework to analyze information pinpointed to a single geographic

location, including cultural and scientific data.

The NASA studies, to begin in fiscal 2001, will attempt to answer four

basic questions, according to Mike Thomas, acting director of the applications

division at NASA's Earth Science Enterprise:

1. What are its data holdings and how can people access them?

2. Where is the data and in what form?

3. What tools will be needed?

4. What restrictions will be tolerated?

Thomas said that with the small amount of funding NASA has available

for the project, the agency decided to focus "only on what NASA can do and

what nobody else can." He encouraged the other agencies involved make similar

assessments. Thomas made his remarks Tuesday at the fourth Digital Earth

Community Meeting in Washington, D.C.

"We've already written plans for these initiatives, and they will begin

immediately when the fiscal year starts," Thomas said. "We'll report the

results back to the Digital Earth community to help them find customers

and applications that would be interesting to other agencies."

Thomas said NASA requested $3.5 million for Digital Earth activities,

but not all of that money will be spent in-house. The agency will help fund

commercial and interagency projects such as the Web Mapping Testbed, sponsored

by the Open GIS Consortium Inc., a nonprofit membership organization addressing

the lack of interoperability among systems that process georeferenced data

and between those systems and mainstream computing systems.

Thomas said the upcoming presidential election also will have an impact

on the Digital Earth program. "We're waiting on the election to see what

the new administration's emphasis on Digital Earth will be," Thomas said.

"It's OK with us to stay in the lead, but we'd prefer sharing the [responsibility]

with other agencies."

Vice President Al Gore first announced the Digital Earth program two

years ago.

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