Observatory helped
shuttle ozone research

A balloon that monitored the gas
was launched from Hilo Airport last month

By Rosemarie Bernardo

The Mauna Loa Observatory participated in an ozone-research project that was part of the space shuttle Columbia's last mission.

Officials at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland coordinated the project with the observatory, which launched a balloon with ozone-monitoring equipment from Hilo Airport last month.

The purpose of Columbia's Shuttle Ozone Limb Sounding Experiment mission was to demonstrate a new technique to measure ozone by looking at the limb or edge of the Earth, Rich McPeters, lead scientist on the experiment, said in a telephone interview from Maryland.

The experiment used the Shuttle Ozone Limb Sounding instrument, akin to a digital camera, to take images of the Earth's ozone layer.

Columbia commander Rick Husband used a small computer in the shuttle to assist in operating the instrument and downloaded images to Goddard Space Flight Center, according to McPeters.

Officials coincided Columbia's flight over Hilo with the observatory's balloon launch to compare the data between the two methods and to determine the shuttle instrument's accuracy.

"We're trying to show that our method is accurate," McPeters said.

Observatory officials launched the balloon, about 2.2 yards in diameter, at the old Hilo terminal about 8:40 a.m. Jan. 21, according to station chief John Barnes. He said he believes the space shuttle passed over Hilo about 9 a.m.

Attached to the balloon was a long chord with a small radiotransmitter to send information back to the observatory and a small instrument to measure air temperature and pressure, humidity and the amount of ozone, Barnes said.

McPeters said scientists were able to retain 10 percent of ozone data sent to Goddard by the Columbia.

"These guys did a great job for us," said McPeters, adding that Columbia's crew trained at Goddard to learn how to use the instrument.

"It was really devastating," he said about Saturday's accident that killed the seven-member crew.

Atmospheric ozone helps protect the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

The Mauna Loa Observatory, which monitors changes in atmospheric chemistry, is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Monitoring and Diagnostic Laboratory at Boulder, Colo. Since the early 1980s, the observatory has been regularly launching balloons to monitor ozone.

In November 1997, Columbia conducted a similar ozone experiment. However, little data was collected because most of the images were overexposed.

McPeters said it will take them several weeks to work with the data collected by Columbia to compare the measurements with those from the observatory balloon.

"We owe it to the crew to do as much as possible with what we have," he said.

Mauna Loa Observatory

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