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Executive Spotlight – Mark Brender
Executive Director, GeoEye Foundation

Brender.jpg Mark Brender manages all facets of the foundation’s affairs. He has held this position since GeoEye established its foundation in March of 2007. From January 2006 until October 2010, he also served as the Vice President of Communications for GeoEye.

Prior to joining GeoEye, he was the Vice President of Communications and Washington Operations at Space Imaging. Mark has more than 25 years of experience in public affairs, broadcast journalism, government relations, business and the military.

In 1998, prior to joining Space Imaging, Mr. Brender was a broadcast journalist for ABC News, spending 16 years at the network as an assignment editor, national security editorial producer, and radio correspondent. Before his ABC career, he served in the U.S. Navy as a public affairs officer and is a retired Naval Reserve commander. As a naval office, he also served as a White House Military Social Aide to the President of the United States.

Mr. Brender began writing and speaking about high-resolution commercial Earth observation as early as 1985 when he established the Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) Remote Sensing Task Force. The task force helped clear the way for high-resolution imagery to move from the defense and intelligence sector to the commercial sector.

SatMagazine (SM)
Good day, Mr. Brender. Many readers have certainly heard of, and know about, GeoEye. Would you please explain exactly what the GeoEye Foundation is, it’s primary goals, and what it has already accomplished?

Mark Brender
GeoEye, Inc. established the GeoEye Foundation in March of 2007 with the belief that the company should share its technology to help those doing research on many of the world’s pressing problems. Satellite imagery and geospatial technologies can help university students with their research across many academic disciplines. The Foundation provides a limited amount of no-cost imagery over a student’s or faculty member’s study area.

In January 2011, the Foundation provided imagery to the University of Kentucky to study the type of ground water discharge to surface streams, to the University of Wyoming to map a wildlife habitat in West Africa, to Simon Frazer University to study coral reef ecology and conservation around St. Lucia in the Caribbean, to University of Cambridge to model fish communities and coral reef habitats over areas in the Indian Ocean and to the University of Hawaii for a study of possible archaeological sites in Crete. Those are just a few. In all the Foundation has awarded some 150 imagery grants since 2007. When it comes to research, satellite imagery brings the ‘death to distance’ and provides an ‘avalanche of content’ to those doing research.

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With 25 years of experience within the broadcasting environment, including 16 years at ABC News, and as a social aide to the President of the United States while you were a U.S. Navy officer, what prompted you to rework your career within the satellite — or, more specifically — the Earth Observation and Imagery environs?

Mark Brender
As a network producer I always understood the ‘value of the visual’. In the early ‘80s when I started working at ABC News I began thinking about the possibility of commercializing spy satellite imagery and the impact that would have on the news gathering process. After all, journalists have cameras all over the globe to cover news, like we’ve seen in Egypt most recently, so where is the next logical place for the media to have access to a camera? In outer space.

Satellite imagery provides the ultimate high-shot over an area of interest such as an Iranian enrichment facility, a North Korean missile launch site, damage from an earthquake or tsunami, a Presidential Inaugural on the National Mall, or for many other journalistic uses.

Working with the Radio Television News Directors Association in Washington DC, we began lobbying the Congress and the Executive Branch of government to enable this technology to move from the black world of intelligence to the white world of commerce. It’s taken a long time, but now high-resolution satellite imagery is part of a tool kit of information that we use to make decisions in business and government. And it’s an ideal tool to help those doing research or help non-governmental organizations fulfill their missions for humanitarian relief. That’s why GeoEye’s CEO, Matthew O’Connell, established the Foundation.

An area of concern for the satellite industry in general is the seeming lack of technical education being offered to young students... without a competent pool of trained professionals, satellite and space companies are already feeling the pinch in filling crucial positions. How can the industry improve the conditions for such training at all levels of education? Is the GeoEye Foundation committed to assisting in this regard? If so, how?

Mark Brender
One of the main goals for the GeoEye Foundation is to increase awareness regarding satellite imagery and its many uses. Most recently, the Foundation helped sponsor a youth program at Quantico Virginia’s Marine Corps Museum that taught more than 500 school children about satellite imagery, its uses and career options in geospatial technologies.

The Foundation also sponsors $5,000 per year scholarships at George Mason University, University of Missouri and the University of Colorado. In addition to providing imagery, we are actually supporting students who will graduate one day and, hopefully, come to work at GeoEye. By providing satellite imagery to faculty and students to support research and scholarship money, we’re helping educate a next generation of users who will come up with even more ways to use geospatial technologies in the future.

The number of disasters throughout the world seems to be on the increase, with massive loss of life and injuries, health issues, and property destruction. How does the GeoEye Foundation assist NGOs and government relief teams? How does imagery play its substantial role in finding solutions for these huge challenges?

Mark Brender
Now that satellite technology is becoming widely used and digital archives are so immense, it is easier for companies such as GeoEye to donate some of its imagery to schools, non-governmental organizations and other groups to investigate human rights violations and environmental issues, as well as for disaster response. From 1995-2005, the UN estimates that 2.5 billion people were affected by disasters with a loss of 890,000 lives and at a cost of $570 billion. Any technology that will help governments prepare for disasters and more efficiently respond to them, will save lives and money.

AAE_ad_SM0311.jpg Regarding human rights, the Foundation has a role, too. For example, GeoEye Foundation recipient Dr. Chris Lavers, was able to use imagery and aide Amnesty International’s investigation of the destruction of communities in Zimbabwe.

In late January, GeoEye provided newly collected imagery to actor/activist George Clooney’s Satellite Sentinel Project over Sudan. The GeoEye-1 satellite collected some 400 square kilometers of imagery over four towns in southeastern Sudan on the day voting was taking place on a referendum for succession. Clooney feels that as more people were watching on the ground and from outer space, the likelihood of violence diminishes. He recognizes that sometimes sunlight is the best disinfectant. It provides light — that generates heat — which generates action.

Some other examples researchers at the University of Maryland and the Missouri Botanical Gardens used our imagery to reveal illegal logging and rosewood trafficking practices in Madagascar. The illegal logging of precious hardwoods in Madagascar’s national parks has increased dramatically in the past years, but there was little that could be done to stop the practice. With help from the GeoEye Foundation and images from the GeoEye-1 satellite, however, researchers were able to track the illegal timber shipments to help international authorities put a stop to the exportation of these natural resources. Due to the limited infrastructure and unrest in Madagascar, it was only with the images provided by the Foundation that the research team was able to shed light on and reduce these illegal practices.

Another research team at the Max Plank Institute for Ornithology used imagery for their Galapagos tortoise conservation efforts. Giant tortoises are known as the native mascots of the Galapagos Islands. Each year their migration is tracked by scientists. Mysteries still remain around this animal’s choice of habitat, migration patterns and how it may impact the local ecosystem. GeoEye Foundation imagery was used as part of a comprehensive ecological study of Galapagos tortoises. The imagery was used to establish a baseline habitat and land use maps of the island, allowing researchers to assess land changes and tortoise impact. The study will ultimately help the Ecuadorian government plan socioeconomic development options for Galapagos that are compatible with tortoise conservation.

With GeoEye operating its own EO satellites, how would you go about requesting a re-tasking of a satellite to offer coverage of a disaster? Would such prove problematic for GeoEye’s commercial and government customers?

Mark Brender
Since 2007, the Foundation has donated more than 120,000 square kilometers of imagery to researchers and non-governmental organizations. The imagery we provide is most always archive imagery from GeoEye’s vast digital library. If there are disasters and GeoEye collects imagery for any customers, then the Foundation has access to it. The Foundation itself does not task the satellites but rides on the collections done by governments or commercial customers. When it comes to disasters though, digital information is like an oyster. It has the greatest value when fresh. So the Foundation moves quickly to get newly collected imagery to those agencies and non-governmental organizations that need it.

As a 501(c)(3) are you noticing other companies and organizations assisting with your organization’s primary goals?

Mark Brender
The GeoEye Foundation is always happy to work with other organizations that are committed to helping students, researchers and non-profits develop projects that improve our environment, society and access to information. For example, GeoEye provided supporting funds and partnered with Penn State University for a video project known as the Geospatial Revolution Project.

The Geospatial Revolution Project is a public service media and outreach initiative about the world of digital mapping and how it is changing the way we think, behave and interact. The Project is designed to expand public knowledge about the history, applications, related privacy and legal issues, and the potential future of location-based technologies.

The Foundation is also supportive of the Centre for Spatial Law and Policy since there are many implications and policy issues that have an impact on high-resolution commercial remote sensing.

Earth observation and imagery demands continue to rise around the globe — where do you see GeoEye, and more specifically, the GeoEye Foundation — heading over the next year or so?

Mark Brender
In the future, I see the Foundation as part of a larger effort to use innovative technologies for philanthropic purposes. The Foundation’s work thus far has already proven that satellite imagery can be used to inform the public about human rights abuses, identify pressing environmental issues and help save endangered wildlife species. The Foundation needs to be fast, bold, and super-ambitious because as more people become aware of this technology, mankind will find more uses for it. Satellite imagery is like visual truth serum of what’s happening on the ground. It just so happens that the camera is 423 miles in non-sovereign space where it’s free to look down anywhere on Earth and collect imagery. There are not any ‘no fly zones’ or restricted areas when you are in space.

Over time, and as resources permit, we hope to increase the number of recipients and therefore increase our positive impact in helping students with their research and NGO with their missions of humanitarian support throughout the globe.