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NASA Administrator Kicks Off Airborne Science Expedition
NASA's O'Keefe presents plaque to Costa Rica's Gutierrez
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe (right) presents a plaque to Fernando Gutierrez, Costa Rica's Minister of Science and Technology in San Jose, Costa Rica on March 3, kicking off NASA's AirSAR 2004 campaign. (NASA photo by Jim Ross)
Sean O'Keefe, NASA Administrator and Fernando Gutierrez, Costa Rica's Minister of Science and Technology, joined other officials to kick off NASA's AirSAR 2004 campaign, a three-week Earth science expedition by an international team of scientists.

Administrator O'Keefe and Gutierrez met following the arrival of NASA's DC-8 Airborne Science aircraft in San Jose, Costa Rica on March 3. AirSAR 2004 will use an all-weather imaging tool called the Airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar (AirSAR) on a mission ranging from the tropical rain forests of Central America to ice-covered Antarctica.

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

NASA Center Director O'Keefe and Costa Rica's Minister of Science and Technology Gutierrez
NASA and Costa Rican officials view AirSAR hardware on NASA's DC-8. L-R: Fernando Gutierrez, Costa Rica's Minister of Science and Technology; Sean O'Keefe, NASA Administrator; Dr. Gahssem Asrar, NASA Associate Administrator for Earth Science Enterprises; Bruce Chapman, JPL scientist. (NASA photo by Jim Ross)
"Central America's unique environment and irreplaceable archaeology are being altered and destroyed at an alarming rate," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, NASA Associate Administrator for Earth Science. "Natural and cultural resources may disappear unless accurately inventoried. NASA's AirSAR campaign provides unique data not available from other spaceborne or commercial observational platforms that will help scientists characterize past and present human impacts on the landscape. Meanwhile, in South America and Antarctica, AirSAR will enable better assessments of how climate change is impacting glaciers and ice shelves and contributing to sea level rise."

The AirSAR campaign would not be possible without NASA's unique DC-8 flying laboratory, a converted jetliner that has flown hundreds of Earth science payloads. NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., operates the aircraft.

"NASA Dryden has provided the international science community with this heavy-lift airborne laboratory and its flight crew, engineering staff, ground and maintenance personnel and support staff, capable of flying virtually anywhere," said NASA Dryden DC-8 mission manager Walter Klein.

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.

Many more photos of AirSAR 2004 are being added to Dryden's Photo Collection:

Gray Creech
NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center