Airborne students, teachers help continue NASA relevance

NASA’s Airborne Science Program and Earth system science research has a fleet of highly modified aircraft that can be deployed all over the world for Earth science missions. Operating in the United States, Europe, Asia and South America, researchers use these aircraft to improve our understanding of the planet. This summer, thirty-two undergraduate and graduate students from across the United States will participate in the Student Airborne Research Program aimed at measuring pollution in California.

Using NASA’s P-3B airborne laboratory, students will measure pollution in the Los Angeles basin and California’s Central Valley and study ocean biology along the California coast. In addition to airborne data collection, students will take measurements at field sites.

Its just one part of an ongoing program that combines global satellite observations and ground sampling to better model and understand the complete Earth system, continuing NASA’s mission even at a time when manned space flight has all but come to a stop.

“NASA’s Airborne Science support of the Earth system science community will be exceptional in 2012,” Randy Albertson, NASA Airborne Science deputy program director told SpaceDaily. “The program on track to exceed the 2011 record of 2,600 hours flying science missions.”

In addition to the Student Airborne program, NASA has projects scheduled this year that include measuring snowfall from space (critically important to freshwater resources, atmospheric water and energy cycles), collecting detailed measurements of important greenhouse gases and studying the processes that form hurricanes.

Not only students are engaged with NASA either. More than 70 teachers had an opportunity to experience what it feels like to float in space as they participated in the Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston last week.

The teachers flew aboard NASA aircraft designed to fly parabolic flight paths, which create brief periods of weightlessness used in NASA’s astronaut training.

NASA Associate Administrator for Education and two-time space shuttle astronaut Leland Melvin also participated in some of the flights and shared first-hand with the participants his experiences in astronaut training.

“The enthusiasm among our teachers participating in the reduced gravity flights is contagious,” Melvin said in a statement. “I know it will add a new dimension to their teaching as they engage their students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies.”

NASA photo