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May the forest be with you, NASA sends 'GEDI' to International Space Station

NASA sent GEDI to the International Space Station on Wednesday. It will eventually be attached to the outside of the space station where it will monitor forests on Earth for two years.

CAPE CANAVERAL — NASA sent GEDI (pronounced Jedi) to the International Space Station Wednesday for a two-year mission to monitor the health of the forests on Earth.

“May the forest be with you,” said Mike Falkowski, a program scientist with NASA, referring to the marketing slogan behind the mission.

The GEDI (Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation) is a sensor called a lidar. It will shoot laser beams down to Earth which will measure our forests in three dimensions.

“It will take about 10 billion observations over the next two years,” said Falkowski, who is a professor and ecosystem scientist at Colorado State University. He's currently serving a two-year detail at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC.

He said GEDI is the most precise space-borne lidar ever used and is capable of measuring the height of forests within a few centimeters of accuracy.

“Knowing how tall a forest is, and how dense a forest is really important in determining how much biomass or carbon is stored in the forest,” said Falkowski.

He said the goal of GEDI is to create the first ever three-dimensional global forest map. Locating the highest level of carbon, showing trouble spots, and how the carbon cycle is changing over time.

“Being mounted on the ISS means it can’t see the whole planet. Areas above 52 degrees north or below 52 degrees south latitude, will be supplemented by the ICESat-2 polar orbiting satellite,” said Falkowski.

He said GEDI will help us better understand the consequences of deforestation, learn more about the habitats of animal species, and maybe even help balance the weather.

“It is one way we could potentially mitigate climate change, and global warming by using forests to absorb additional CO2 from the atmosphere,” said Falkowski.

The GEDI hitched a ride aboard a Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket that was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Wednesday.

Once the sensor arrives at the International Space Station, astronauts will use a robotic arm to remove it from the SpaceX Dragon capsule and attach it to the outside of the Japanese science module. That's where it will carry out its two-year mission.

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