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NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory takes off from Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, on NASA's AirSAR 2004 campaign.

Photo Number: ED04-0056-071
Photo Date:
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NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory takes off from Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, on NASA's AirSAR 2004 campaign. AirSAR 2004 Mesoamerica is a three-week expedition by an international team of scientists that uses an all-weather imaging tool, called the Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar (AirSAR) which is located onboard NASA's DC-8 airborne laboratory.

Scientists from many parts of the world including NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are combining ground research done in several areas in Central America with NASA's AirSAR technology to improve and expand on the quality of research they are able to conduct.

The radar, developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, can penetrate clouds and also collect data at night. Its high-resolution sensors operate at multiple wavelengths and modes, allowing AirSAR to see beneath treetops, through thin sand, and dry snow pack.

AirSAR's 2004 campaign is a collaboration of many U.S. and Central American institutions and scientists, including NASA; the National Science Foundation; the Smithsonian Institution; National Geographic; Conservation International; the Organization of Tropical Studies; the Central American Commission for Environment and Development; and the Inter-American Development Bank.

AirSAR collects multi-frequency and multi-polarization radar data for a variety of science applications. It also acquires data in interferometric modes, providing topographic information (cross-track mode) or ocean current information (along-track interferometry). This March 2004 deployment was planned to:
  • Study the extent and distribution of archeological Mayan civilization (using foliage-penetrating radar)
  • Study the glaciers of Patagonia and the Antarctic peninsula
  • Investigate new techniques for the measurement of the forest structure of dense tropical forests
  • Fill in the largest "void" in the SRTM-derived map of South American topography
  • Collect additional data for various research initiatives

During the deployment data is collected over Central and South America and Antarctica. During the approximately 100 flight hours, AirSAR is expected to acquire polarimetric and/or interferometric data along a 20,000 km track, or about 200,000 sq. km of data over 40 sites for 30 scientists. AirSAR will collect data related to the following NASA Code YS science programs:

  • Cryospheric Science
  • Land Cover/Land Use Change
  • Natural Hazards
  • Physical Oceanography
  • Terrestrial Ecology
  • Hydrology

NASA used a DC-8 aircraft as a flying science laboratory. The platform aircraft, was based at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., collected data for many experiments in support of scientific projects serving the world scientific community. Included in this community were NASA, federal, state, academic and foreign investigators. Data gathered by the DC-8 at flight altitude and by remote sensing has been used for scientific studies in archeology, ecology, geography, hydrology, meteorology, oceanography, volcanology, atmospheric chemistry, soil science and biology.

NASA Photo by: Jim Ross
Keywords: DC-8, Airborne Science, AirSAR, Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar, Central America, Costa Rica, La Selva, rain forest

Last Modified: March 10, 2004
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