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Reflections on Life...In the Jungle
Brilliantly colored strawberry poison dart frogs singing in the jungle below didn't notice the NASA DC-8 flying laboratory passing overhead. After all, there is little disturbance to the rain forest by an aircraft far above. tree frog in Costa Rican rain forest

Image to right: A colorful strawberry poison dart frog (Dendrobates pumilio) brightens the Costa Rican rain forest. Credit: NASA/Jim Ross

The DC-8's mission is NASA's AirSAR 2004 campaign, a three-week Earth science expedition by an international team of scientists. Flying over the La Selva rain forest in Costa Rica, scientists aboard the flying laboratory are using an all-weather imaging tool called the Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar (AirSAR).

The radar, developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., can penetrate the dense rain forest canopy and scan through clouds to produce highly accurate topographic computer models. radar reflector setup for AirSAR calibration Recently, triangular radar reflectors were set up in the La Selva jungle at precise points on the ground so that scientists aboard the aircraft could calibrate the AirSAR radar from the air. The silver, aluminized reflectors temporarily added a decidedly high-tech look to the natural surroundings in which they were placed.

Image to left: JPL scientist Paul Siqueira sets up one of several radar reflectors used for AirSAR calibration by mission scientists. Credit: NASA/Jim Ross

AirSAR 2004 scientists are endeavoring to accurately inventory Costa Rica's tropical rain forests and irreplaceable archaeology by characterizing past and present human impacts on them. The plan is to help prevent further loss of the country's unique natural and cultural resources. aerial view of Costa Rican rain forest

The DC-8 and its AirSAR sensors provide unique data not available from other space-based or commercial airborne platforms. The unique aircraft has flown hundreds of Earth science payloads such as the AirSAR, contributing to the ever-growing knowledge base of science data gleaned from the air.

Image to right: The view from NASA's DC-8 down on a Costa Rican rain forest during the AirSAR 2004 mission. Credit: NASA/Jim Ross

NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., operates the aircraft, along with two high-altitude ER-2 science platforms.

Following the rain forest radar imaging effort, the DC-8 is off to ice-covered Antarctica, where it will begin characterizing the impact of climate change on glaciers and ice shelves in the Antarctic Peninsula area which seem to be contributing to sea level rise.

DC-8 at airport in San Jose, Costa Rica
Image to left: NASA's DC-8 being towed at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica. Credit: NASA/Jim Ross

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, the National Geographic Society, Conservation International, the Organization of Tropical Studies, the Central American Commission for Environment and Development, and the Inter-American Development Bank.

For information about AirSAR, visit: and

Photos of NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory and the AirSAR 2004 campaign can be downloaded at:

Movies of NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory and the AirSAR 2004 campaign can be downloaded at:

Gray Creech
NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center