NASA’s ER-2 is a flying laboratory that cruises at nearly 70,000 feet over Earth–so high, the pilot can see the curvature of the planet!
While there is a similar high-altitude plane used for military operations (known as the U-2), ER-2’s flights collect scientific data from the Earth. According to NASA, the plane’s purpose is to “collect information about Earth resources, celestial observations, atmospheric chemistry and dynamics, and oceanic processes” as well as assist in “electronic sensor research and development, satellite calibration, and satellite data validation.”
The ER-2 even flies over hurricanes to help weather forecasters collect data, and its ability to fly in the stratosphere lets it test NASA’s instruments before they’re sent into space.
Pilots have to wear pressurized suits because the plane reaches heights that cause altitude-induced decompression sickness (DCS), similar to that of divers rising too quickly from the depths of the ocean.
Read about a U-2 pilot’s experience with DCS at the Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine.
Check out Wired’s experience below as they tag along for a mission.
— WIRED (@WIRED) March 14, 2017