2017 was a year of groundbreaking discoveries and record-setting exploration at NASA. Welcome to the PRIDE family of newspapers’ annual four-part look back at The Year in Space (and on Earth). Part One examined NASA and the Moon, the Solar System and Beyond; Part Two more closely explored Mars and the International Space Station; Part Three will look at Aeronautics, Aviation, and Earth Sciences Research; and we will conclude in Part Four on Technology and Public Engagement.
Safely moving increasing numbers of people and cargo more efficiently between airports aboard airplanes of all sizes, which burn less fuel, release fewer emissions, and fly both quieter and faster, remained the focus of NASA’s aeronautical innovators as they achieved several technical milestones in 2017. Some of the research highlights realized in 2017 included NASA-developed systems to help air traffic managers and pilots more efficiently fly from departure gate to arrival gate being demon-strated: the first near Seattle early in the year and the second at Charlotte Douglas International Airport beginning in September.
Enabling commercial supersonic passenger jet travel over land is a key goal for NASA aeronautics. A prelim-inary design for just such an aircraft was completed in June after wind tunnel tests in Ohio and Virginia, and information that will help quiet sonic booms was gathered during flight tests in Florida in August.
The explosive demand for Unmanned Aerial Systems, or drones, has prompted NASA to take the lead in assisting government and industry in finding the safest, most efficient ways to integrate these new aircraft into the airspace above us. Testing flexible wings, reducing noise from landing gear, improving the odds of surviving a crash, improving research methods with optical fiber, and deploying new hardware to better test helicopters are among the many other projects that saw results in 2017.
NASA aeronautics in 2017 also showcased its most important resource – people – by introducing a new university leadership initiative, funding a trio of potentially transfor-mative research teams, and celebrating honors and accomplishments. One of the NASA centers that does a great deal of aeronautic research, Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, celebrated its 100th anniversary this year.
Earth sciences research
In 2017, NASA further used the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future. The 60th anniversary of space-based research of Earth, and the beginning of the United States’ exploration of space, came in January 2018, to be followed by NASA’s 60th birthday on October 1.
A new NASA study provided space-based evidence that Earth’s tropical regions were the cause of the largest annual increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration seen in at least 2,000 years.
The research used global data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, launched in 2014. NASA’s program to turn Earth science data from space into life- and property-saving information when natural disasters strike on Earth contributed to major hurricane, earthquake, and wildfire response efforts in 2017. NASA Earth satellite data revealed the formation of a massive iceberg the size of the state of Delaware that split off the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica in July.
NASA’s use of the International Space Station for scientific studies of Earth continued to grow with the launch of instruments to observe lightning and the protective ozone layer in February and another in December to track the Sun’s influence on our climate.
Scientists created the first global inventory of sulfur dioxide emissions from volcanoes using over a decade of data from NASA’s Aura satellite. Sulfur dioxide is a harmful air pollutant and a contributor to climate change.