"LIVE FROM THE STRATOSPHERE" P R O J E CT U P D A T E # 26 PART 1: Live from the Hubble Space Telescope PART 2: It takes a team! PART 3: Real Science is Real Hard Work _______________________________________________________________________ As Live From the Stratosphere winds down, Live From the Hubble Space Telescope is ramping up. This project will enable students to make observations with mankind's best optical telescope. Wow! For many of us who saw the Hubble photos in the news last week of the stars being born, the uniqueness of being able to use this spectacular astronomical tool for K-12 observations really hit home. A lot of the action for this project will not be happening until the late Winter and Spring of 1996. So if you are booked, rest easy. But one very special activity will be happening between now and December 15. Namely, we will be deciding together what to observe with our precious three orbits. The choices are either Pluto, Neptune, Uranus or Jupiter. World class experts will lead a discussion to help us determine a scientifically-meaningful mission. But the final choice is to be made by us all, including your students. If you want to be part of this decision-making process, then the time to act is now! A maillist called updates-hst has been created on quest to deliver basic project information. Another maillist called discuss-hst has been established as a place for you and your students to contribute their thoughts to the decision process. To sign up for both of these lists, send an email to: In the message body, write only these words, on two separate lines: subscribe updates-hst subscribe discuss-hst A 30-minute television program called the "The Great Planet Debate", will air November 9, 1995 at 10:30-11:00 Eastern, and provide an introduction to the activity. This program will air over the PBS satellite (PBS Telstar 401, Transponder 8) and may be carried by your local PBS station (check local listings). The program will also be simulcast over NASA TV (Spacenet2, Transponder 5). If you are not able to view the program live, it will shortly be available on videotape from NASA CORE (216) 774-1051 _______________________________________________________________________ IT TAKES A TEAM Ben Burress, Tracker Operator November 6, 1995 The Apollo moon landings were a great testament to the amazing feats that can be accomplished using teamwork, determination, personal commitment, and plain hard work. The Kuiper Airborne Observatory is no lesser a feat, I am convinced. First off, it isn't just a telescope that you might point at a star from your backyard; it's a telescope on an airplane, and that alone elevates the requirements to operate it. Simply to fly the airplane requires a ground crew of six or so people, a pilot pool capable of supplying three pilots/flight engineers for each flight, aircraft safety inspectors, navigators, and the occasional enlistment of dozens of military aircraft technicians for periodic inspection and maintenance. Then you have the personnel whose task it is to maintain and operate the telescope and all of its supporting systems. The technicians, operators, and managers required to do this year-round, for perhaps 80-90 flights per year, number almost thirty. THEN, you have hardware and software engineers who design and integrate new systems and improve old systems, and these number close to fifteen, including their support personnel. All of this, just to provide a working flying observatory for astronomers to use, which gets me around to those who are last, but not least: the astronomers. Without the astronomers' knowledge, ability, interest, and equipment, the KAO would be little more than the cargo plane it was originally built as. These astronomers couldn't elevate their equipment to 41,000 feet without the KAO, of course, but the KAO wouldn't get much astronomy done without them. It has been every bit as much fascinating to be a part of and observe the workings of this big "cyborg" called the KAO, which is nothing if it is not all of the human and machine components it encompasses. I say "cyborg" because that is what the KAO is: a thing of people and of mechanization which accomplishes something that neither alone could. It is not just an airplane, not just an airplane with a telescope in it, and not just a team of devoted astronomers with a high powered telethermometer. Without the people, the KAO would be inert, paraplegic, inanimate, and without the machine, KAO would be a bunch of people standing around looking for something to do. In this way, each participant, from the technician who ensures that a critical piece of equipment is in working condition to the astronomer who gathers and analyzes the data, is equally meaningful to the outcome of what the KAO was built to do: Airborne Infrared Astronomy. I am very proud to have been one of the parts of this unique project, this thing that seems to have a life of its own no matter which individual persons come and go and which machines are obsoleted and replaced with newer ones. _______________________________________________________________________ REAL SCIENCE IS REAL HARD WORK -- A First-Hand Account of "Life on the Kuiper" -- By David Morse, NASA Ames Public Affairs Your head is exploding. Your sinuses are pounding. You feel dizzy, dehydrated and nauseous. You're bordering on deaf. And your body feels like a Baked Alaska, suffering under the heaters but with a deep-seated inner cold. Is this astronaut training or some type of torture? No, it's just another long night on Ames' Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO). On September 28, 1995, I took a momentous ride -- the very last research flight of the venerable KAO. My purpose was to take a hard look at what it's like to do real astronomy in an actual research environment. The experience was an eye opener, and one I won't soon forget. For those not familiar with the idea behind the KAO, the principle is very simple. Astronomers, like Earth scientists using remote sensing information, cannot afford to utilize only visible data or photographic imagery. They must use the entire range of the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) to conduct their research because different regions have different characteristics and capabilities and provide different information. But radiation data about stars, planets and galaxies cannot typically be collected at terrestrial sites because it is absorbed by atmospheric water vapor before it reaches the Earth's surface. This applies to most infrared light, gamma rays, x-rays and ultraviolet light. Further, cover and smoke. The Kuiper presents a practical way to address some of these problems by operating at a height of 41,000 feet, above the clouds, above 85% of the Earth's atmosphere and 99% of its water vapor. The converted C-141 military cargo aircraft operates at the very edge of space. It is the world's only airborne astronomical research facility, measuring radiant heat patterns from celestial sources. It is an ideal research platform for astronomers. The accomplishments of the Kuiper over its 22-year history are legendary. Scientists on the KAO made the first sightings of the rings of Uranus and a definitive identification of an atmosphere on Pluto. They discovered water vapor in the thick atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn and in the comets Halley and Wilson. They developed clues to the early chemical composition of the Solar system and performed remote sensing of the surface geochemistry of Mercury. More than 50 PhDs have resulted from the analysis of KAO-collected data. But what is it like to do actual astronomical science research on the KAO? That was what I was determined to know. I certainly found out! I had worked for several weeks to get myself aboard this flight, whining and being a general nuisance until it was just easier for the mission manager to put me on the flight manifest rather than endure further. My mistake! I began my adventure with an afternoon safety briefing and a "fitting" appointment for my own personal oxygen mask. That plus the knowledge that my life insurance probably would not be valid on this "non-commercial" flight did not make me feel too secure. By the time I boarded the KAO for our almost 8-hour, 12-leg flight back-and-forth across 6 western states, I was beginning to wish I'd stayed home, used my imagination and watched "Jeopardy" on TV rather than putting myself in it. Nearly everything you've heard about conditions on the KAO, designated NASA 714, are true. It's old and, despite regular airline- type seats, it is rather uncomfortable. My self-installed oxygen mask waving three or four feet above my head was not aiding my sense of calm. Nor was the drop down hydraulic ramp exit right behind me. The plane is cold. Why wouldn't an aircraft with a large hole cut in its side be? It is also very dry, and while your feet freeze you simply can't drink enough cold water. Plus, it is very loud. You have to wear headsets constantly to reduce the effects of engine noise and listen for emergency instructions and other communications. In effect, you are on a fifteen-foot leash with limited understanding of what is going on and overactive sweat glands behind your ears. Electric cables and pipes go everywhere, there is little interior insulation, and creature comforts are at a minimum (just try the latrine!). I could not help but think of the kinds of contradictions and opposites that the KAO embodies. It is an amazing vehicle that has made some of the greatest astronomy discoveries of all time, but it is anything but modern, comfortable or high-tech. It is an incredible juxtaposition of state-of-the-art science and relatively ancient aero technology. Radiant heat patterns from the stars are recorded in a refrigerator-like human environment. The jets are deafening, the science chatter is constant, but you can't help but feel a sort of sensory deprivation. So why do people endure this? The answer is simple -- dedication. In truth, this has to be a difficult way to do research and earn a living. It's hard to get adequate time scheduled on the vehicle for your experiments, there's lots of competition. You have to build or have created your own data sensing instrument. You have to fly at night (the tracking equipment uses visual cues). At any time, telescope, weather, aircraft or other problems can kill your experiment. There are few rewards -- most people don't understand the significance of this esoteric work, no matter how important the discoveries. And conditions on the KAO are tough. It is a tribute to the dedicated flight and ground crews, and the scientists and astronomers that this program has been so tremendously successful for so long with almost no problems. While maintaining a strict regard for safety, funding has gone into the research end of the operation, not the convenience or comfort of the KAO travelers. It was a real experience to fly with these highly motivated researchers and technicians whose labor of love is also one of relative anonymity. It was a privilege and an honor to fly the last science mission of the Kuiper. And, it is a sad day to see this valuable resource retired while the transition to the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) takes place. The KAO could probably fly for another 20-years, but this flight was destined to be my last, you can bet on that!