Edwards AFB lends NASA a hand in capturing Leonid data

Press Release From: Dryden Flight Research Center
Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2001

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Members of the Global Reach Combined Test Force at Edwards stepped up to the plate Nov. 17 to help NASA researchers capture one-of-a-kind data. The squadron offered 18 U.S. scientists a ride aboard a specially modified aircraft, so they could collect data during this year's Leonid Meteor Shower. The specially modified aircraft, an NKC-135E Stratotanker, is also known as the Flying Infrared Signature Technology Aircraft, or FISTA. The aircraft is equipped with more than 11 quartz-crystal windows designed to support advanced technology optical data collection. The windows include defrosters and adjacent mountings for cameras and highly specialized equipment to gather signature data on meteors. The mission launched from Edwards at 10 p.m. and flew throughout the shower returning at 6:30 a.m. the following morning. While the shower could be viewed from the ground, the goal for the mission was to get above the clouds and other atmospheric interference to meet NASA's specific viewing needs. According to Lt. Col. Jeff Smith, director of the Global Reach CTF, with the current operations tempo at the test center, accommodating the flight was challenging but well worth the extra effort. The aircraft required extensive reconfiguration for the mission. In addition, with the airfield's main runway under construction and closed for the weekend, the project had significant hurdles to overcome to allow for launch and recovery, Smith said. "Team Edwards came through in a crunch so that the international scientific community would have this data," Smith said. "The team worked round the clock during Veteran's Day weekend configuring the aircraft and all the next weekend flying the mission." In the end, the mission went "flawlessly," said Smith. "We were able to get the scientists and their equipment to the right spot on the globe at the right time so they could gather the information," he added. "This data is being used to better characterize the threat that our satellites have to space hazards, so it's benefits will touch each of us someday." Meteor storms have historically eluded planned observation. The Leonid storm offered researchers an opportunity to plan viewing based on it predicted appearance. The Leonids are minute dust particles shed by Comet Tempel-Tuttle. The comet swings around the sun once every 33 years, leaving a trail of dust. Each November, the Earth's orbit takes it through that slowly dissipating trail.

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