The Bay Program is entering the space age.

NASA, on Nov. 5, became the 15th federal agency to become a formal member of the Bay Program, pledging to use its data-gathering satellites, low-level aircraft and the space shuttle to help with water cleanup and pollution-reduction efforts in the Chesapeake and surrounding areas.

Under an agreement signed with the EPA, NASA agreed to share water temperature, pollution runoff, fish population, algae bloom and other data already gathered from space. The agreement covers both current data and historical information from the agency’s archives.

The agency will also provide expertise to help interpret that information. “They have a tremendous amount of computer capacity over there, especially for processing raw satellite imagery to get them in a format that groups like us can work with,” said Rich Batiuk, associate director for science with the EPA’s Bay Program Office.

In addition, Batiuk said NASA was developing “leading edge” technology that helps different kinds of computers share information. That technology could help the Bay Program in its development of a centralized Chesapeake Information Management System, known as CIMS, which will ultimately allow researchers, managers and the public access to a variety of Bay-related information.

NASA and the Bay Program will also work together to conduct habitat restoration, nutrient reduction and other environmental activities at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, and its Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA.

“One of [NASA’s] programs is to improve the quality of life on Earth,” said Jeffrey E. Sutton, the agency’s associate administrator for the Office of Management Systems and Facilities. “We will use our remote-sensing capabilities to better understand the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and its impact on surrounding communities.”

EPA Administrator Carol Browner said the space agency will provide a “tremendous wealth of information” and represents an example of agencies working together to meet a common goal.

The NASA initiative is part of the agency's Earth Science Enterprise, which uses a network of private and government satellites, ground-based and atmospheric sensors and scientific shuttle missions.

Through that program, NASA already shares information with industries, such as the oil industry and fisheries, and with regions, such as the Gulf of Mexico.