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Visitors Fly with NASA’s Operation IceBridge
November 12, 2014


On Oct. 28, 2014, NASA’s Operation IceBridge hosted two high-profile visitors, U.S. Ambassador to Chile Michael Hammer and NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan.

Hammer and Stofan traveled to Punta Arenas, Chile, to participate in an IceBridge survey flight, meet with local scientists and engage with students and other members of the public.

On this trip, Stofan met with Ambassador Hammer and his staff, spending several days conducting meetings and presentations aimed at promoting the scientific cooperation between the United States and Chile and engaging the public. A large portion of scientific work is global in nature, requiring cooperation, openness and transparency that can translate well to the realm of international relations.

This takes the form of something known as science diplomacy, which involves reaching the public of other nations in an interesting way to help build a favorable opinion of the United States. Science diplomacy goes beyond working between governments and works to build a positive impression by looking to solve problems in a cooperative way.

[image-69][image-87]Before arriving in Punta Arenas, Stofan met with officials from Chile’s national science organization and spoke to high school students interested in studying science and engineering in Santiago. After these meetings, Stofan flew to Punta Arenas and the next morning she and the ambassador met with the IceBridge team at the airport and boarded NASA’s DC-8 for a survey of Antarctic ice.

Flying 1,500 feet above Antarctica’s Foundation Ice Stream gave Hammer and Stofan a firsthand view of the continent, something both say they have long been fascinated by. But the flight served more of a purpose than simply sightseeing. For Stofan, it was an opportunity to see one of NASA’s missions close up, and for Hammer the flight was a chance to see international cooperation at work.

As NASA’s chief scientist, Stofan is responsible for advising the agency’s administrator on matters of science priorities and policy. NASA focuses on many scientific realms, which requires the chief scientist to be conversant in and up-to-date on all sorts of scientific activity. “It’s important to see the work done here,” Stofan said.

Seeing researchers aboard the DC-8 collecting data with their various instruments served as a reminder of how much things have improved since the first polar explorers made it to Antarctica around 100 years ago, Stofan said. It also showed the importance of aircraft to NASA Earth science, namely how they bridge gaps between satellites and can be used for instrument development. “Aircraft are a critical part of the science portfolio,” Stofan said. 

During the flight both the chief scientist and the ambassador got to interact with classrooms in the United States and Chile through a text chat program that connects via the DC-8’s satellite communication system. “Digital platforms allow us to connect with so many people,” said Hammer.

The next day they both continued this interaction with presentations at a meeting held by the Chile’s Antarctic program and a Punta Arenas school before heading to the American Corner at the University of Magallanes to participate in a NASA Google+ Hangout on IceBridge. The American Corner is a joint effort between the U.S. State Department and several Chilean universities aimed at cultural exchange between the two nations. There are American Corners in several cities located throughout Chile.

NASA Google+ Hangouts are live online video events where expert panelists answer questions posed by the public and media via social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. During this event, Hammer and Stofan answered questions about NASA science, international cooperation and their experience flying with IceBridge.

This visit to Punta Arenas gave NASA’s chief scientist a behind-the-scenes view of the mission and gave opportunities to engage with the public and build student interest in science and technology around the world. “It’s such an inspiration to students, no matter what country they’re from,” Stofan said.

George Hale
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

VIP visitors join the pre-flight briefing.
Prior to getting underway with NASA researches working on Operation IceBridge, NASA Chief Scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan and US Ambassador to Chile Michael Hammer joined the group for a pre-flight briefing in the team’s ready room at Presidente Carlos Ibáñez del Campo airport in Punta Arenas, Chile.
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NASA Chief Scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan (left) and US Ambassador to Chile Michael Hammer (right).
NASA Chief Scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan (left) and US Ambassador to Chile Michael Hammer (right) are just moments away from boarding the IceBridge airplane to join researches for a flight over Antarctica.
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ASA Chief Scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan and US Ambassador to Chile Michael Hammer discussed the ramifications of climate change at the global scale.
Science and diplomacy have long legacies of shared experience. Onboard NASA’s DC-8 research airplane, NASA Chief Scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan and US Ambassador to Chile Michael Hammer discussed the ramifications of climate change at the global scale.
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Page Last Updated: November 13th, 2014
Page Editor: Holly Zell