Ambassador Award

Martha E. Maiden

Retired, NASA. Self-employed consultant


Citation for Martha E. Maiden

Few individuals had as much of an impact as Martha Maiden in working across organizational and national boundaries to ensure data availability in support of so many AGU science areas. She not only took care of the “bits and bytes,” but she brought a strong science focus to these efforts, including leading the effort to provide preliminary data sets to the community so they could “cut their teeth” on data sets based on precursor instruments from NASA, NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). When the next-generation data became available in the late 1990s and early 2000s from the major platforms of the Earth Observing System (EOS), the community was fully prepared to use the new data. 

Ms. Maiden was an early advocate for not implementing planned charges for NASA EOS data. Through her consistent efforts over about a decade, she inspired NASA, NOAA, and USGS to drop charging for data and worked internationally with Earth observation providers to show the merit of free and open data. As a result, the usage of satellite data by the research and applications communities increased enormously.

She managed the implementation of the Earth Observing System Data and Information System during a time of rapid change in the “data world,” working tirelessly to be sure that the hardware and software systems used were cost-effective. Ms. Maiden did more than oversee a data system, however; she led efforts in the Earth science community to share data and make their use as easy as possible. It’s worth emphasizing that at the time, this was not everyone’s usual approach to Earth science data, so her personal and organizational efforts were critical. Ms. Maiden worked effectively and creatively through entities such as the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites and the Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) Federation. In fact, her role in nurturing ESIP during its infancy led ESIP to create the Martha Maiden Award in her honor.

Since her retirement, Ms. Maiden continues to demonstrate her commitment to the community. She has served on the AGU Fellows Committee for Earth and Space Science Informatics since 2017, and she has been a reviewer for the AGU/NASA Data Visualization Awards since their inception in 2017.

In summary, Ms. Maiden’s long history and continuing efforts to serve the AGU community by helping to “bring data to the people” make her highly deserving of the AGU Ambassador Award.

—Jack Kaye, NASAWashington, D.C.



I am so honored to receive this award. I am amazed to find myself in such distinguished and elite company. What an unexpected cap to my career, which was so very fulfilling. I was a supporting player in Earth science, enabling my colleagues to maximize research and engineering accomplishments in Earth science. I am proud to have played a part in making data more available and usable. The Ambassador Award is unique in providing an award for the larger recognition of the role that members play in service to the Earth and space community. My motivation for pressing for free data came from listening to users, whose studies were stifled by the limited amount of data they were able to obtain when having to include data costs in grant proposals. Without free and open data sharing, important large regional and global studies, including multiyear studies, would not have been possible. 

In graduate school, I studied radio astrophysics. When I got married, I left with an M.S. and took a job working in Earth science, writing scientific software for a microwave atmospheric sounding instrument. It was a stroke of luck in my meandering career because I found Earth science so rewarding and relevant—it’s where we live! The reality of global climate change made it obvious that it was urgent Earth science

make fast progress in understanding how the planet was changing. When I came to NASA Headquarters and had a chance to influence data policy, it was this urgency that was behind every decision I made.

Earth and space science informatics is a relatively new discipline within AGU. I am encouraged that AGU has highlighted and promoted best practices in open and FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable) data on a large scale in recent years across all disciplines. 

    —Martha Maiden, NASA,retiredWashington, D.C.