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Considering the space shuttle lifts off carrying 500,000 gallons (1.8 million liters) of fuel ready to burn, NASA doesn't usually top many lists of conservation-minded organizations [source: NASA]. And the 5,500 tons (4,989 metric tons) of litter floating around up there from decades of spaceflights doesn't help things, either [source: redOrbit].
But there's more to NASA than space travel. NASA is, at its core, a scientific organization (and a pretty well-funded one at that) that's coming up with solutions to problems. Those problems may be how to get a Mars rover's power supply replenished or repair a shuttle's insulation material while in space. But those problems are often much more grounded in daily life on Earth.
NASA does more in the Earth-sciences arena than many of us realize. And these days, that means environmental science. Once you get past the iconic, exhaust-filled image of shuttle liftoff, NASA is actually making significant contributions to the health of Earth and those who inhabit it. After all, NASA is part owner of one of the most impressive all-solar-powered residences in the universe.
Space-based technology reinterpreted for life on Earth is a huge part of NASA's positive effects on the environment, but it doesn't end there. In this article, we'll run down five of the most critical ways NASA is helping Earth survive its environmental predicament.
You may be surprised to find out that NASA is a regular collaborator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We'll begin our list there: No. 5 is NASA's role in air-quality research.