NASA Airborne Science Program (Part 1)

We admit it; we’re hooked. We like being insiders. We’re curious about what NASA is up to, even though they’re no longer up to the space shuttle program.

Ice Bridge Data (NASA)

We also like Palmdale, California, though we haven’t seen all that much of it. We drove out that way for the first time on Thanksgiving weekend of 2008, shortly after we moved to California, to see the space shuttle Endeavour land at Edwards Air Force Base. That trip—just a couple of hours drive each way—set the stage for our two-year adventure following the end of the space shuttle program two years later.

Palmdale is a place with lodging close to Dryden Flight Research Center, so that’s where we stayed when we followed Endeavour home to California last year. On that trip, we stayed an extra night, exhausted from our cross-country travel between California and Florida and back and, suddenly, not wanting to rush to LAX to see Endeavour’s last landing, instead preferring the image of the shuttle aloft to linger in our minds as long as possible.


During that last jaunt into the desert, we dined at the Yard House in Palmdale. We’re creatures of habit, dining there three nights in a row, just as we had found favorite restaurants on the Space Coast and stuck with them, though one went out of business and then went out of business again between our visits. So we imagine that, in the next couple of days, we’ll sit ourselves down at Yard House to enjoy an ahi poke bowl, Gardein buffalo wings, and, depending on their monthly special drafts, a Lagunitas IPA or a Half Acre Daisy Cutter, the new beer we discovered in Chicago earlier this month

Tomorrow, we’re off to Palmdale not so much for a familiar meal, of course, but to spend a day learning about NASA’s Airborne Science Program. As NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden once reminded us, the first A in NASA stands for aeronautics. In addition to studying space, NASA studies the Earth’s atmosphere and surface, using satellites and aircraft. We’re part of a group of social media nerds who will get a “behind-the-scenes” look at airborne science projects on Friday.

According to NASA, the program’s primary objectives are as follows:

  • Conduct in-situ atmospheric measurements with varying vertical and horizontal resolutions
  • Collect high-resolution imagery for focused process studies and sub-pixel resolution for spaceborne calibration.
  • Implement “sensor web” observational strategies for conducting earth science missions including intelligent mission management, and sensor networking.
  • Demonstrate and exploit the capabilities of uninhabited and autonomous aircraft for science investigations
  • Test new sensor technologies in space-like environments
  • Calibrate/validate space-based measurements and retrieval algorithms

What does that mean? We’re not sure yet, but we’ll definitely share what we find out. We’re thinking ice caps and forest canopy and pollution. In the afternoon, we’ll be “in the hangar,” so we’re hoping to see several different airplanes, including the unmanned Global Hawk originally designed for military surveillance and the ER-2, and maybe peek at the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft that’s sitting out there in the desert somewhere with nothing much to do. You’ll just have to check back at Lofty Ambitions to find out what airborne science means (Part 2: PHOTOS and Part 3: Flight Suit).

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