In a first for Fiji, the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) DC-8 Airborne Science Laboratory aircraft landed at the Nadi International Airport on Saturday.
The aircraft from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Centre in Palmdale, California, is used to collect data for experiments in support of projects serving the world’s scientific community.
The flight arrived at the Nadi International Airport from Kona, Hawaii on Saturday evening with 27 scientists and 17 crew members who are on an Atmospheric Tomography Mission (ATom).
It will leave Fiji this morning for Christchurch in New Zealand.
ATom will study the impact of human-produced air pollution on greenhouse gases and on chemically reactive gases in the atmosphere.
It was an extraordinary experience for Nadi Muslim School science teacher Dinesh Gosai to tour the fully equipped flying science laboratory yesterday.
Mr Gosai through the United States Embassy in Fiji got an opportunity which he utilised to also speak to the scientists about allowing students to visit the aircraft on their next trip to Fiji.
“It was an amazing experience and this depicts how evolved science and technology are now,” Mr Gosai said.
“Upon my talks with the scientists, we are looking forward to their next visit in the country in the next fall when we will be likely taking a few students of ours to tour inside the aircraft.”
Mission Director, Timothy Moes said the aircraft was being flown around by NASA since 1985 and it was one of NASA’s biggest uploads.
“There are around 20 different instruments on the plane and there are actually 26 different teams on the plane and many of them have 10 or 20 instruments of their own for the work they do,” Mr Moes said.
“We measure the air at the altitudes along up and down the ocean also have remote sensing.”
The aircraft flies at a height of 1524 metres (5000 feet).
“It has its own communication system on board from where Mr Moes engages with the pilots, scientists back at NASA and others as well,” he said.
The suite of 20 instruments on board will measure airborne particles called aerosols and more than 200 gases in each sampled air patch, documenting their locations and allowing scientists to determine interactions.
Michael Prather, an atmospheric scientist said the science team would use ATom’s collected data on the air’s chemical signatures to understand where pollutants originate, and where and how quickly these climate gases reacted chemically and eventually disappear from the atmosphere.
Data gathered with the aircraft at flight altitude and by remote sensing were used for studies in archaeology, ecology, geography, hydrology, meteorology, oceanography, volcanology, atmospheric chemistry, cryospheric science, soil science and biology.
Mr Prather said they chose to land in Fiji because it was a good spot to land and had good support.
“Plane really couldn’t do without having a good place to land and this is one of the good places to land,” he said.
The -72 version of the four-engine first-generation jetliner was acquired in 1985 by NASA and highly modified to support its airborne science mission.
The aircraft will return to Fiji in March.
The passengers onboard DC-8 do not use the front lavatory of the aircraft because it would be sensored by the equipment and interrupt the radar equipment.