19 February 2009

Looking at Planes at NASA-Dryden and Hanging Out with the Incredibly Beautiful SOPHIA

Image: Sitting the the belly of a DC-8. The belly of this plane has been modified to have several ports for instrumentation. Our purpose was to look at this plane and see whether it would be suitable for the Mojave overflight mission. Bob Curry is behind me. Credit: Tim Titus.

Today, Tim Titus, Murzy Jhabvala and Peter Shu and I went to meet Bob Curry at NASA Dryden’s Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, California. We went to chat with them regarding possible aircraft for the Mojave overflights. From the work we did two weeks ago, we have temperature and barometric pressure sensors deployed in five caves and five non-cave features on a lava flow in the Mojave Desert. The data from these instruments will help instruct us as to when we should conduct the overflights with the QWIP thermal imaging camera. This is where meeting with the Dryden folks comes in. They have a couple of aircraft that may be suitable for our needs. Today, our team and Bob met to discuss some options. There seems to be a few good possibilities. However, we have to wait and see how this turns out.

Image: SOPHIA in the background.

We did get a chance to see one of their aircraft for collecting imagery. It’s a DC-8, and obviously a huge plane. It was incredibly cool to see how this plane has been converted from a passenger plane to a science lab. We were shown numerous ports in the belly of the plane where viewing instruments could be installed.

Image: One of Dryden's workhorses. This is the DC-8. She has been modified to serve as a remote sensing lab.

We also had the opportunity to play tourists. Bob was kind enough to set up a quick mini-tour of SOPHIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy lab). Costing in the 100s of millions to develop, this airborne observatory is a 747 jumbo jet carrying a massive telescope for viewing the heavens. The telescope is located at the aft of the plane. The side of the plane has been modified and has an open cavity for the telescope to collect data. After Bob had told me how much this bird costs, I actually tip-toed mindfully through the plane. Calling this bird impressive is an understatement.

Image: Murzy and me being tourists and posing for a photo. This is just before we got a tour of SOPHIA. Murzy's wife, Christine actually developed one of the instruments on-board this jumbo-laboratory.

No comments: