NASA flew three small unmanned aerial vehicles through the noxious sulfur dioxide plume escaping Costa Rica’s active Turrialba Volcano in March. The repurposed military drones were outfitted with special instruments to gather data about the gas and volcanic ash.
The agency launched 10 flights using Aerovironment RQ-14 Dragon Eye drones acquired from the U.S. Marine Corps because manned flight into plumes is dangerous and the vehicles’ electric engines are less susceptible to ash damage.
Data acquired by the drones was matched up to that of the Terra spacecraft, one of the agency’s Earth-observing satellites, to calibrate spacecraft-based sulfur dioxide measurements. This procedure will help NASA conduct more accurate remote monitoring of volcanoes and produce better forecasts of plumes after eruptions. Volcanic plumes are a major concern for international air traffic and climate forecasting models.
NASA’s long-serving Landsat mission marked another milestone at 1:40 p.m. EDT on March 18. The newest Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) Earth-observing satellite, the eighth to carry the Landsat name, recorded its first image of the ground.
The natural-color images show the intersection of the United States Great Plains and the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming and Colorado. In the images, green coniferous forests in the mountains stretch down to the brown plains with Denver and other cities strung south to north.
(The image on the right was created using green, near infrared and short wave infrared wavelength bands, displayed as blue, green and red, respectively. The false-color image shows Fort Collins and the bright, rusty red wildfire burn scar from the Galena Fire to the left of the reservoir. Courtesy NASA/USGS.)
Look to the sky just before sunrise or right after sunset, and you may spot a slow-moving, bright dot. Hovering 220-miles above the earth, this distant spot is the International Space Station. Scientific research is the priority for the six-person crew that lives and works there. It’s a laboratory like no other, where researchers can test technologies for traveling deeper into space or find unique insight into questions about life on Earth.
ISS scientist Tara Ruttley says research into astrophysics, biology, technology and other disciplines are tested within the station’s microgravity laboratories “We’re the only orbiting lab ever…where all these disciplines are connected together,” she says.
Now, NASA is calling for research proposals on how the ISS may be used to develop improved exploration technologies. “The research pursuits that get me the most excited are the ones that enable us to go somewhere deeper out into space,” says George Nelson, manager of the ISS Technology Demonstration Office. “You’re basically having to transport an entire ecosystem wherever you go, so environmental support systems play a big role in the type of technologies we need to develop.”
Since its creation, the ISS has distinguished itself for novel and interesting breakthroughs towards scientific understanding of our world and the beyond. While NASA is already planning for future ISS research efforts, it is worthwhile to note the station’s significant scientific achievements from the past 14 years.