Middle school students help produce a spectacular work of Earth art, thanks to Sally Ride’s EarthKAM project

By Tom Yulsman | November 10, 2016 10:15 am

The Sahara desert in western Libya as seen from the International Space Station in October. (Source: Sally Ride EarthKam/NASA)

Middle school children programmed a camera on the International Space Station to capture this stunningly beautiful photograph of the Sahara in Libya.

It’s part of a NASA project called EarthKAM: “Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students.”

The program was begun in 1998 by Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space. (At the time it was called KidSat.)

EarthKAM is intended to use the unique vantage point of space to help students, teachers, and the public gain knowledge about one of the planets in the solar system: our own home planet, Earth. As part of the program, middle school students around the world request images of specific locations on Earth, and these are archived in searchable archive.

The image above was posted to the International Space Station’s Instagram feed yesterday. Not much in the way of caption detail was offered, so I’ll try to fill in the gaps.

This is obviously a false-color image. The blue is not indicative of water between the yellow-brown sand dunes. Instead, I’m pretty sure the blue shows inter-dune clays and silts, helping to distinguish between the more sandy sediments of the dunes themselves.

EarthKAM is among the many educational benefits of NASA’s current Earth science program. With the election of Donald Trump, the future of that earth science program is in question. During the run-up to the election, space policy advisors to the Trump campaign said:

NASA should be focused primarily on deep space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies.

What exactly that will mean for NASA’s remote sensing work, and valuable activities like EarthKAM, is up in the air.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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