Wednesday, October 07, 2009

NASA Research and Technology in Focus at Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

NASA is legendary for its work in space, such as the Apollo 11 mission that featured the first steps on the lunar surface by astronaut Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969. In 2009, NASA celebrated the 40th anniversary of that event that still inspires people around the world.

Before NASA sent men to the moon, the agency's aeronautics division flight-tested rocket-powered aircraft that touched the edge of space. Among the 800,000 people expected to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Oct. 3 - 11, many who visit the NASA exhibit are learning more about the sleek black X-15 that 50 years ago redefined the limits of aviation and contributed to the Apollo mission.

Balloon Fiesta attendees have an opportunity to learn not only about the history of NASA aeronautics through a number of displays, but to experience some of it for themselves.

"We're glad to be there," said MaryAnn Harness, public outreach specialist and exhibit coordinator at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center. "We're excited to have the aeronautics lead on the Balloon Fiesta for NASA and we hope to educate a lot of people about flight research."

The first event of the 38th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta was the Dawn Patrol. The event is comprised of a group of balloon enthusiasts lighting their hot air balloons at the same time to give early morning spectators a light show. (NASA photo / Tom Tschida)

An F-15 cockpit simulator can allow people to picture themselves in the pilot's seat, lifting off the runways at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. When exhibit attendees exit the cockpit, they can learn about the wind tunnels that are used for researching the different aircraft shapes or the aerodynamics of various parts of an aircraft.

Visitors can also take a turn at a photo kiosk, where they can be photographed on either the moon or Mars at no cost.

Another exhibit details the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, a modified NASA 747SP with the world's largest airborne infrared telescope installed in its rear fuselage. SOFIA will deploy to locations around the world where its high-tech German-built telescope will scan the heavens with greater ease that Earth- or space-based telescopes. To help people to see how infrared astronomy works, a camera is set up for visitors to see how they and their friends and family appear in the infrared spectrum.

Crewmembers tip a hot air balloon gondola upright to prepare for the final stages of launching it. (NASA photo / Tom Tschida)

Since the event features hot air balloons, NASA appropriately has an F/A-18 half-scale blow-up model at the entrance of the NASA exhibit. Other, less expansive models of the SOFIA NASA 747 aircraft, the NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and the next-generation Orion spacecraft are available for attendees to view.

In addition, Dryden aerospace engineering technician Jim Sokolik conducts daily demonstrations of a high-altitude pressure suit that was used in the Mach 3 SR-71 program. He also is displaying the suit at Albuquerque area schools and at an American institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics event Oct. 6.

Balloon Fiesta attendees see spectacular and breathtaking views at the events on the field and in the sky. They have similar experiences learning about the latest technologies and testbeds that NASA is developing to explore space, advance aeronautics and reveal more about planet Earth and its environment.

› View Balloon Fiesta Photo Gallery

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