NASA cli­mate sci­en­tist and as­tro­naut Sell­ers dies at 61

‘Piers de­voted his life to sav­ing the planet’

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

WASH­ING­TON: Piers Sell­ers, a cli­mate sci­en­tist and for­mer as­tro­naut who gained fame late in life for his elo­quent com­men­tary about the earth’s fragility and his own cancer di­ag­no­sis, has died. He was 61. Sell­ers died Fri­day morn­ing in Hous­ton of pan­cre­atic cancer, NASA said in a state­ment. Sell­ers shared his as­tro­naut’s per­spec­tive on cli­mate change in Leonardo DiCaprio’s doc­u­men­tary, “Be­fore the Flood,” re­leased this fall. He told DiCaprio that see­ing the earth’s at­mos­phere as a “tiny lit­tle onion skin” from space helped him gain a fuller un­der­stand­ing of the planet’s del­i­cacy.

He also wrote a New York Times op-ed about grap­pling with the mean­ing of his life’s work af­ter learn­ing he had ter­mi­nal cancer. In both the film and the op-ed, he was op­ti­mistic, ar­gu­ing that he ex­pected hu­man in­ge­nu­ity to res­cue the planet from a dire fu­ture of ru­n­away global warm­ing. “Piers de­voted his life to sav­ing the planet,” NASA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Charles Bolden said in a state­ment. “His legacy will be one not only of ur­gency that the cli­mate is warm­ing but also of hope that we can yet im­prove hu­man­ity’s stew­ard­ship of this planet.”

In the op-ed, Sell­ers wrote that the best way he could imag­ine spend­ing his fi­nal months was to con­tinue work­ing, de­spite know­ing he would not live to see the worst of cli­mate change or the har­ness­ing of pos­si­ble so­lu­tions. “New tech­nolo­gies have a way of bet­ter­ing our lives in ways we can­not an­tic­i­pate. There is no con­vinc­ing, demon­strated rea­son to be­lieve that our evolv­ing fu­ture will be worse than our present, as­sum­ing care­ful man­age­ment of the chal­lenges and risks,” Sell­ers wrote. “His­tory is re­plete with ex­am­ples of us hu­mans get­ting out of tight spots.”

The Bri­tish-born Sell­ers was deputy di­rec­tor for sciences and ex­plo­ration at NASA’s God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter in Green­belt, Mary­land. He started work­ing for NASA as a sci­en­tist in 1982 and joined its as­tro­naut corps in 1996. He made three flights to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, the last in 2010. “When I was a kid, I watched the Apollo launches from across the ocean, and I thought NASA was the holy moun­tain,” Sell­ers said ear­lier this year when Bolden pre­sented him with the Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Medal, the agency’s high­est honor. “As soon as I could, I came over here to see if I could climb that moun­tain.”—AP

—AP Pho­tos

NEW YORK: In this photo, US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry, left, Leonardo Dicaprio, sec­ond from left, Piers Sell­ers and Fisher Stevens, from right, at­tend the premiere of Na­tional Geographic Chan­nel’s ‘Be­fore The Flood,’ at the United Na­tions head­quar­ters.

FLORIDA: In this photo, Bri­tish born US As­tro­naut Piers Sell­ers talks with re­porters fol­low­ing the safe re­turn of the space shut­tle Dis­cov­ery at the Kennedy Space Cen­ter in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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