The Bee balloons begin rising during a mass ascension at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. At the 40th annual event, Dryden led an agency exhibit focused on aeronautics. (Photo courtesy Jay Levine) › View Larger Image
Bee on the Lookout: International Balloon Fiesta Attracts Huge Crowds
When attendees at the International Balloon Fiesta, in Albuquerque, N.M., visited the event's Discovery Center Oct. 1-9, they had an opportunity to learn about NASA aeronautics work.
In fact, at an event featuring hot air balloons, NASA appropriately displayed an F/A-18 half-scale blow-up model at the entrance to the agency's exhibit. The exhibit focused on NASA aeronautics research conducted at Dryden, Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
NASA aeronautics, with its history of bringing key technologies to all aspects of aviation, is looking to do so again with the latest "green aviation" initiative, through which NASA will test and integrate technologies designed to reduce aircraft noise and emissions, maximize fuel usage and improve air-traffic management. New to the NASA exhibit in Albuquerque this year was a hybrid-wing body aircraft model that illustrates ideas on how green aviation concepts might be realized.
"We were so glad to again be playing a lead role in the Discovery Center aeronautics exhibit, and to be helping celebrate 40 years of Albuquerque's Balloon Fiesta," said Mary Ann Harness, Dryden public outreach specialist and exhibit coordinator.
The NASA exhibit included daily presentations by former Dryden aerospace engineering technician Jim Sokolik. During hands-on life support demonstrations and longer presentations at Albuquerque-area schools, Sokolik demonstrated a high-altitude pressure suit used in the Mach 3 SR-71 program. Sokolik also offered participants a taste of astronaut food, which is eaten by pilots of high-altitude aircraft on long missions.
A model of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, aircraft was on display. The SOFIA, a modified NASA 747SP with the world's largest airborne infrared telescope installed in the rear fuselage, will be deployed to locations around the world. The high-tech German-built telescope has begun science missions that scan the heavens at altitudes above the water vapor in Earth's atmosphere, which obscures views with ground-based infrared telescopes.
Many people are familiar with visible-light images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The SOFIA display introduced visitors to the infrared spectrum by allowing them to see themselves on a monitor through the lens of an infrared camera.
Balloon Fiesta attendees enjoyed panoramic views of hot air and gas balloons from around the world on the field and in the sky. But they also had opportunities for interesting experiences while learning about the latest technologies and test bed aircraft being developed by NASA to advance aeronautics and reveal more about planet Earth and its environment.
By Jay Levine