Cocooned in a high-altitude pressure suit, research pilot Denis Steele conducts a pre-flight checkout in the cockpit of a NASA's ER-2 Earth resources aircraft prior to conducting a survey flight over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill May 13. (NASA / Regan Geeseman) As part of the national response to the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill, NASA's ER-2 high-altitude Earth resources aircraft has been flying missions over the Gulf of Mexico and gulf coastal areas to survey the extent and nature of the Gulf oil spill. The aircraft deployed from NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., to Ellington Field, Houston, Texas, May 6 at the request of NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The final flight is slated for late Tuesday, May 25.
The ER-2 is outfitted with the Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) and the Cirrus Digital Camera System to collect detailed images of the Gulf of Mexico and its coastal wetlands. Developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the AVIRIS instrument is measuring how water absorbs and reflects light in order to map the location and concentration of oil, which separates into a widespread, thin sheen and smaller thick patches. The camera system was supplied by NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Tuesday's almost nine-hour final flight, the 11th of the mission, was scheduled to depart Ellington Field near Houston and survey areas of the Gulf near New Orleans before the ER-2 returns to its base at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale.
NASA ER-2 Earth resources aircraft # 809 carrying the AVIRIS spectrometer and the Cirrus Digital Camera System heads aloft under grey skies on another survey mission over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill May 13. (NASA / Regan Geeseman) › More on NASA's response to Gulf oil spill