The First A in NASA Stands for Aeronautics

                                                                                                                                                                                        Credit: NASA
If you’ve explored NASA’s website, you may have noticed that What on Earth is just one of a network of NASA blogs. You can find many of them on this main index page, but there are also NASA bloggers scattered at numerous other pages.

Earth Observatory’s Notes from the Field focuses, for example, on scientific field campaigns. And NASA’s Climate Change website, which is run by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), features a blog called My Big Fat Planet. At Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Geeked on Goddard (aka gogblog), written by a former Astronomy blogger, is fast becoming a go-to-source for all things Goddard (and includes plenty of earth science news).  

Tony Freeman, an earth science manager at JPL and occasional contributor to My Big Fat Planet, wrote a post this week that caught our eye. Tony shines a spotlight on our fleet of research aircraft, based mostly at Dryden Flight Research Center, and gives a fabulous reminder that the first A in NASA stands for aeronautics. Here’s how he explains why we bother with aircraft:

Why bother with aircraft when we can fly spacecraft? Well, airborne missions enable us to do unique — and crucial — experiments in the fields of atmospheric chemistry and volcanology, for example, from altitudes that range from 100 feet (30 meters) to 60,000 feet (18 kilometers). They also help us to check and validate the performance of the instruments that fly onboard NASA satellites such as Aqua, Aura, and others in the so-called “A-train” of Earth-observing satellites. And airborne instruments are often cheaper to launch. Tethered and untethered balloons; manned aircraft ranging from small propeller craft (think Cessna) to large jet engines (think the DC-8 aircraft); unmanned airplanes such as the large surveillance craft known as the Global Hawk — NASA uses them all.

You can read the rest of Tony’s post here.