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April 20, 1993 (Phone: 202/358-4733) Don Nolan Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility, Edwards, Calif. (Phone: 805/258-3447) RELEASE: 93-071 NASA SR-71 NOW A FLYING OBSERVATORY NASA has modified a former Air Force reconnaissance aircraft to conduct high- altitude astronomy studies at three times the speed of sound. The SR-71A "Blackbird," based at NASA's Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility, Edwards, Calif., made its first science flight on March 9. In the plane's nose bay was an ultraviolet video camera that studied stars and comets. Future flights will carry a variety of instruments, including a fiber optics device and an ultraviolet spectrometer. "This really is a case of turning swords into plowshares," said Jacklyn Green, Project Scientist for the SR-71 science research platform project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., which developed the experiments. "We are taking what was once a spy plane and transforming it into a useful, cost-effective science platform. This opens up a new ultraviolet window for research." During its first mission, the SR-71 climbed to just above 83,000 feet (25.3 kilometers), where scientists can observe stars and planets at ultraviolet wavelengths that are blocked to ground-based astronomers.
The SR-71 could perform several other experiments now in the planning stage, such as infrared studies of the Aurora Borealis by the University of California, Los Angeles Physics Department and atmospheric science studies of specific pollutants in the stratosphere. "It's significant to the SR-71 program that the unique capabilities of the aircraft are being viewed by the science community as a platform for gathering data at high speeds and altitudes. The SR-71 is the only aircraft that can meet their needs," said Dave Lux, SR-71 Project Manager at Dryden. - more -2NASA's three Blackbirds also may serve as platforms for aeronautics studies in NASA's High-Speed Research Program. "Boeing is investigating the possibility of using the SR-71 for inlet testing with a subscale engine and supersonic riblet testing, and McDonnell Douglas is interested in conducting sonic boom studies," said Neil Matheny, Dryden point of contact for the program. The High Speed Research program is researching and developing technology for a future environmentally friendly, economically feasible high-speed civil transport. The program is a joint NASA-industry effort led by NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va. - end NOTE TO EDITORS: Video and still photos of the SR-71's first science flight are available to media representatives by calling the NASA Headquarters Broadcast and Imaging Branch on 202/358-1900. Color: B&W: 93-HC-94 93-H-106 93-HC-95 93-H-107