By Donna Collins
THE Walvis Bay International Airport has become the launch pad for Operation ORACLE, which is one of the largest USA science missions linked to NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), to ever grace African shores in particular the coast of Namibia.
During a gathering at a large hanger, which houses one of the sophisticated aircraft used in this mission, as well as other high tech monitoring equipment, the operation crew met with Minister Frans Kapofi, (Minister Presidential Affairs) and his delegation.
The NASA mission, he said has been welcomed by the Government, and after inspecting the high tech instrumentation inside the P3 aircraft, he stated that Namibia is part of the world community, which is interdependent on each other for vital matters such as climate change.
“Namibia is proud to be hosting this three-year NASA scientific project, which we believe will not only benefit the world with valuable data, but will encourage our learners to follow in their footsteps whilst being trained to become the next generation of Namibian scientists.”
Walvis Bay was selected by NASA, because Namibia is one of a very few countries that ticks all the boxes to meet all the criteria of a NASA experiment. The extra long runway of the Walvis Bay International Airport has provided the perfect take off and landing strip for the two US research aircraft, which are being used in this incredible operation.
In particular Namibia is the go-to destination for scientists to understand the role of biomass and smoke particles in low level and off-shore clouds, caused by the annual burning of vegetation and other fires at the start of the rainy season, in central and southern Africa. And the first by NASA to study biomass and smoke particles in a semi-permanent cloud mass off the coast of Namibia in the south-eastern Atlantic Ocean have already begun.
The data collected will be used to build more accurate computer climate models to determine the effect of the particles in the formation of the cloud mass itself, and what influence it might have on future weather patterns both locally and globally.
Leading NASA scientist on the project, Professor Jens Redemann, gave an overview of the ORACLE saying this is the first of three NASA-funded project operated from Namibia. He said that the mission needs to be stretched over three years to acquire the full spectrum of data needed to build exact climate models that will end in 2018.
Already six eight-hour long low-level flights have been undertaken with the highly-modified mission specific P3 aircraft. The mission is also utilising a modified U2 ‘Spy’ plane designated by NASA as an ER-2 to undertake high level measuring missions and became airborne on its maiden flight on Saturday.
“The equipment this aircraft carries simulates what satellites in space measure on the Earth’s surface and the data captured by it will not only be used in our study, but it will also be used to calibrate the equipment on satellites in orbit around the planet.”
Five NASA research centres, eight universities in the USA, two universities in South Africa as well as two universities from Namibia are collaborating to capture the data collected by the specialised aeroplanes. The data collected will take many years to analyse but, what is collected is available immediately.
One of the ER-2 pilots Greg Nelson who did a meet and greet on the day, was full kitted out in a specialised flight suit, which resembled that of an astronaut, complete with oxygen tank, as he flies to heights on the very edge of the atmosphere, where NASA’S view from space shows us that our planet is changing.
And by taking a closer look scientists are able to predict the changing environment.
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