Eye on Himalaya by a NASA Astronaut

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Talking to a group of professionals and diplomats at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) headquarters in Kathmandu, NASA’s Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate Dr John M Grunsfeld said the environment is definitely changing.

“I’ve seen dramatic changes on Earth," said Dr Grunsfeld. "We humans are rapidly changing the planet. I observed the enormous amount of loss of glaciers in the mountains of Alaska to Greenland and the Himalayas.” 

Dr Grunsfeld made a seminal presentation titled ‘Science@NASA - Perspectives of an Astronaut and NASA Scientist’ on 7 November 2013. Organized by ICIMOD, the talk was attended by Kathmandu-based ambassadors, high level representatives of Government of Nepal, various partner institutions, members of the media, and ICIMOD staff. 

Dr Grunsfeld, who has a great passion for the mountains, especially the Himalayas, traveled to Nepal for a visit to ICIMOD and to participate in this event. He expressed concern about the changing environment, noting that the climate has been changing for billions of years, but not so rapidly as it is now. 

Dr Grunsfeld is popularly referred to as the ‘Hubble Repairman’ or ‘Fix-it-man’ for his important role in servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, one of the largest and most versatile telescopes ever put into space by mankind. His absorbing stories about the changing environment on the planet as seen from space struck chords in the hearts of the audience and gave everyone present an opportunity to look at Earth from that unique vantage point. 

Dr Grunsfeld also gave a talk at the Asian Institute of Technology and Management and Kathmandu University and to the NASA Space Challenge Hackathon participants. During this event, he recounted  the enormous diversity he observed in the Himalayan region from space - a perfect perch for a bird’s eye view of the magnificent landscape. 

Welcoming Dr Grunsfeld, ICIMOD’s Director General Dr David Molden emphasized that  climate change is a pressing issue of the Himalayan region. He said the scientific collaboration with NASA, through the jointly supported NASA/USAID SERVIR-Himalaya project, underscores a significant step in understanding  climate change and identifying appropriate steps to deal with it.

Senior Manager of ICIMOD’s Mountain Environment Regional Information System, Basanta Shrestha, gave an overview of the SERVIR-Himalaya initiative, which aims to link ‘Space to Village’ and applies the best in science and technology from NASA to development issues relevant to the Himalayan context. He also provided a brief account of SERVIR applications being undertaken by ICIMOD in the Himalayan region.

In his closing remarks, Dr Grunsfeld said the happiest moments of his life were whenever he was in the mountains or in space. “I got to witness the majestic mountain ranges of the Himalayan region," he said, expressing satisfaction with the current collaboration between NASA and ICIMOD through SERVIR. 

Dr Grunsfeld hoped the tie between NASA and ICIMOD could be further strengthened. He plans to come back to the mountains and enjoy the scenic beauty and the diverse culture of the region.