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June 27, 2011

NASA overflights postponed

NASA's plans to send low-flying aircraft over the Baltimore-Washington area to measure air pollution levels have been postponed to allow more time to increase public awareness of the flights.

The first test flights of the Discover-AQ campaign were to have begun Monday morning, with a four-engine turboprop aircraft making passes over portions of I-95, the Baltimore Beltway and the NASA P3 OrionBaltimore-Washington Parkway. Science flights are still set to begin July 1 and will continue through the month.

Parts of the day-long flights will be just 1,000 feet above the ground. And as they begin those low-level segments, pilots will be spiraling their Orion P3 airplane toward the ground from higher altitudes. That raised some concern that people on the ground, including motorists, might be startled or worried by the unusual maneuvers.

Rani Gran, a spokeswoman for the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, said NASA officials decided they "needed to create more awareness with the public."

So, NASA has invited local news media to BWI-Marshall Airport Tuesday for a "plane and pilot availability." That will yield more coverage of the flights on the evening news, and the added public awareness the space agency is seeking.

The first test flights are now scheduled for Wednesday or Thursday, depending on the weather, which for now looks quite sunny.

The airborne air pollution measurements are part of Discover-AQ. It's an effort by NASA to improve the reliability of its satellite-based air quality monitoring, which has difficulty detecting pollutants near the ground.

By studying the movement of air pollutants on the surface and at various altitudes - and as it evolves during the day - NASA expects to be able to improve the air quality models used to process satellite data. That should improve air quality forecasts, and will also be used to inform the design of the next generation of satellites. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:18 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Sky Watching


Perhaps we could climb to the top of the cellphone towers located along those roadways to take pollution readings? I'd bet it's a lot cheaper and closer to the ground where the pollution for vehicles is generated.

FR: There are already ground stations across the region, and NASA and the Maryland Department of the Environment and several universities will be augmenting those in July during the flyovers with both tethered and free balloons. As the linked story says, there will be a high-altitude aircraft doing lookdown observations, too, along with the satellites. The point is to get as many data points as possible, in all three dimensions and as the daylight hours go by. That will help to improve the computer models and pollution forecasts and to identify and measure the sources of the pollution, and where it winds up in order to make enforecement efforts more efficient and effective. Air pollution causes a great deal of illness, lost work time, increased healthcare costs and death. NASA's argument would be that sometimes you have to spend money to save lives and more money down the road.

NASA= Not A Space Agency.

The brains behind putting a man on the moon, sent probes to Mars and Venus, landed a probe on a comet, have now been "fundamentally transformed" by the Obama regime to air sampling and Muslim outreach.

FR: Okay. You've made your point. Now let's hear from the people who complain that it's a waste to send missions to the moon and planets (and comets), when we could be spending the money to address problems right here on Earth?

Obviously, no ne was paying attention while Bush and his cronies bled NASA dry and then tried to ram the Constellation program through at the last minute, causing cost over runs and such serious delays that the program was hopelessly over budget. Isn't this the government waste Republicans complain about ? Oh , that's right, it's OK for Republicans to waste the taxpayer's money.

Please see the 1958 Space Act which established NASA, particularly objective #1. NASA has always had Earth science in its charter, in fact it is the first item listed.

(d) Objectives of Aeronautical and Space Activities.--The aeronautical and space activities of the United States shall be conducted so as to contribute materially to one or more of the following objectives:

(1) The expansion of human knowledge of the Earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.

Hey Ed Weglien, give it up. I guess you want the Orion P3 to tow a banner "Blame Bush".

I should have included this in the previous post, but regarding the state of NASA space exploration that "sad to see it go..." mentions, many of those things are still happening. The Mars Science Lab has shipped to the Cape, NASA selected the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to return an asteroid sample, and there are several craft current at their destination or on their way (including Maryland's own New Horizons and MESSENGER spacecraft). Yes, the human program is a bit of a mess and it's disappointing we are still in low Earth orbit, but it's taken several administrations across both sides of the political aisle to screw that one up.

In the late nineties, I piloted a smaller twin-engine aircraft equipped with various pollution detection apparatus (tubes were sticking out all over that airplane.) We did our flights exactly as you describe it, one low (about a hundred feet) pass over the runway, then very slow, very smooth spirals up to about 6000 feet. From what the atmospheric scientist on board told me, there was no better way to get a good reading on air pollutants this low in the atmosphere. The costs of using aircraft in research (and in business) are greatly exaggerated in the public mind--such use can be amazingly efficient and productive.

"FR: Okay. You've made your point. Now let's hear from the people who complain that it's a waste to send missions to the moon and planets (and comets), when we could be spending the money to address problems right here on Earth? "

Did any of the NASA research from the 60's not help fix "problems right here on Earth"?

None of the technology had any effect on making the place a better place to live, a healthier place to live, a more efficient place to live?

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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