Marta R. Metelko
December 11, 2003
NASA Scientist Trains Astronauts To Be "Earth-Smart"
When you see one of those amazing images of the Earth from space, sand sweeping through miles of the Sahara desert, or the massive swirl of a hurricane winding up to move inland, odds are Kamlesh "Kam" Lulla had something to do with it.
Lulla is chief scientist for Earth observation in the Human Exploration Science Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. He directs Earth observation science activities for Space Shuttle flights and the International Space Station. Lulla's Earth Observation group at JSC trains astronauts and cosmonauts in the scientific observation of Earth's environmental, geological, oceanographic and meteorological phenomena.
"One of NASA's missions is to understand and protect our home planet, and my job directly ties to that," Lulla said. "Space photography is an important tool in our mission to improve life on Earth. For example, photographs taken by astronauts, in tandem with satellite imagery, have enabled us to conduct research on how to monitor smoke over the Amazon region, detect how it affects regional climate patterns and the lives of the people who live there," he added.
Growing up in Baroda, India, Lulla was sparked to a career in space science after hearing the 1969 Voice of America radio broadcast of the Apollo 11 lunar landing and Neil Armstrong's historic first steps on the moon.
Lulla attended the M.S. University of Baroda, where he earned two bachelor's degrees in biology and chemistry in 1968 and 1969 and master's and doctorate degrees in environmental science and ecology in 1972 and 1976, respectively. While working on his doctoral dissertation in India, Lulla came across Earth images from NASA. This emerging field of science called "Remote Sensing" intrigued him. Remote sensing captures images from space through digital and photographic technology.
"Space provides such a unique perspective of Earth," Lulla said. "We need to explore our own planet to scientifically understand Earth's processes, in order to better appreciate the complexity of our home planet," he remarked.
His first trip to the United States was in 1978 through an opportunity from Rotary International, a volunteer organization that sponsored visits. Following the trip, Lulla decided to make a new start and pursue a career in Earth remote sensing in the United States.
Lulla served as a senior professor and director of the Indiana State University Remote Sensing Research Center in Terre Haute, Ind. He was involved in several NASA sponsored remote-sensing projects there. He joined JSC in 1988, as senior lead scientist for Earth observations for Shuttle flights and became Chief of the Earth Sciences Branch in 1994.
Lulla's research has resulted in numerous scientific papers and four coauthored books. His accomplishments have been recognized by scientific and professional societies. He received the Remote Sensing medal from the Association of American Geographers and Presidential Citation from the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing.
Lulla maintains strong ties to his Indian heritage. He can converse fluently in seven of India's 14 major languages. The India Cultural Center of Houston, which promotes Indian culture and diversity, recognized him with the Outstanding Professional Achievement Award in 1990 and the Cultural Festival of India Award in 1991. Following the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy in February, Lulla participated in a Voice of America program where people from all over the world called to express sympathy. Lulla volunteered to talk to Indian callers in Hindi, the national language of India.
"Photographs taken by astronauts are inspiring to students and people all over the world, because they allow you to share in the astronauts' space experience, and see your own back yard from space," Lulla said. "Those remote Earth images connect us all to space exploration," he added.
For Information about NASA on the Internet, visit:
To view NASA's collection of astronaut photography on the Internet, visit:
Media organizations interested in interviewing Lulla should contact John Ira Petty, JSC Public Affairs Office, at: 281/483-5111.
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