The Catholic University of America

L-R: Daniel Irwin, director for SERVIR, NASA; Carrie Stokes, geospacial information technology advisor, USAID; Catholic University communication law professor David Irwin.

Orbiting Benefactors

Law students who spend most of their time with their heads buried in books were invited to lift them toward the heavens and contemplate the wonders of American technology during an unusual lecture at the law school on March 19.

"From Space to Village: How NASA's Global Imaging Satellites and Telecommunications Benefit Mankind" was presented by Daniel Irwin, the director for SERVIR, an important, innovative, yet little known satellite program administered by NASA.

SERVIR was created mostly by Irwin, who is the son of CUA communications law professor David Irwin. The program provides a friendly and watchful eye in the sky, an international earth visualization and monitoring system that integrates satellites, ground-based data telecommunications and effects-forecasting computer models to monitor and predict environmental changes and to improve governmental responses to natural disasters.

SERVIR is jointly run by NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and is operational in Central America, the Caribbean and Africa. The orbiting monitors have proven invaluable to scientists, educators, disaster first responders, policy-makers, environmentalists and others in disaster management, agricultural development, biodiversity conservation and climate change.

Among many other uses, the system allowed government officials to detect the location of mass graves in Indonesia, following the devastating tsunami that swamped the country in 2004, which killed 168,000 people.

In short, say Irwin and other supporters of the SERVIR system, it saves lives and livelihoods, villages, communities and fragile ecologies in remote and critical regions of the planet.