Oxygen required: NASA’s Airborne Sciences program employs ER-2 aircraft — the civilian version of the Air Force U2-S — to carry out its wide-ranging study of different Earth systems. The photo seen here is a self-portrait by pilot Tom Ryan, taken during a 2011 flight to test a laser altimeter prototype for NASA’s ICESat-2 mission. The aircraft typically operates at an altitude of around 65,000 feet.

Right now, three polarimeter instruments are being flown on an ER-2 as part of the Polarimeter Definition Experiment (PODEX), which is paving the way for a future satellite mission to study clouds and aerosols called the Aerosol-Cloud-Ecosystem (ACE).

For more about PODEX, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/qa-starr.html
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