NASA operates a highly modified McDonnell Douglas DC-8 jetliner as a flying science laboratory. The platform aircraft, based at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility, Palmdale, Calif., collects data for experiments in support of scientific projects serving the world’s scientific community. Included in this community are NASA, federal, state, academic and foreign investigators. Data gathered by the DC-8 at flight altitude and by remote sensing have been used for scientific studies in archaeology, ecology, geography, hydrology, meteorology, oceanography, volcanology, atmospheric chemistry, soil science and biology. The DC-8 flies three primary missions: sensor development, satellite sensor verification and basic research studies of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere.

Because it flies in the Earth’s atmosphere, the DC-8 offers a comparatively inexpensive way to test and verify prototype space shuttle or satellite instruments. Scientists use the DC-8 to develop ideas in instrument technology, test new instruments and modify them if necessary, based on flight results. Potential problems can be corrected before new instruments are launched into space. As a result, flight-proven hardware can lead to substantial savings in time and resources.