Fig in front of a DC-8 engine intake.jpg

This post is brought to you by Fig O'Reilly, a Datanaut, member of Girls Who Code, and founder of the #EmpowermentThroughCoding initiative.

In April of this year I traveled to the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California to take Girls Who Code, a nationwide non-profit whose mission is to bridge the gender gap in the coding community, on a behind the scenes tour of the last flight of the Atmospheric Tomography (ATom) Mission. ATom studies the impact of human-produced air pollution on greenhouse gases and chemically reactive gases in the atmosphere. 

Inside the NASA Armstrong aircraft hangar.Up and ATom!

From July through August, a suite of instruments aboard NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory will be analyzing and measuring more than 200 gases and particles found in the air that travels down the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to the southern tip of South America, then north up the Atlantic Ocean to Greenland. The aerosol scientists behind the mission are looking at tiny particles in the atmosphere like dust, sea salt, and sulphates and will evaluate the data collected on each, which could provide much-needed insight on our planet's atmospheric makeup and the effects of pollution. The instruments engineered to measure the particulates are all designed and shaped differently and draw air in through an inlet. As one of the scientist explained, “The turbulence within those inlets can affect the gases and aerosols, so the instruments collecting data are specifically designed to avoid altering the particulate matter coming in.” 

What makes this experiment important? “Mitigation of these short-lived climate forcers is a major component of current international policy discussions. This mission establishes a single, contiguous, global-scale data set that comprehensively can be used in global models of atmospheric chemistry and climate.” Check out the Atmospheric Tomography section of the ESPO Data Archive for downloadable datasets and mission files from previous ATom flights. 

"Learn to code. It's so incredibly useful."

Inside the NASA Armstrong aircraft hangar

#EmpowermentThroughCoding is an initiative whose mission is to empower women and girls to code. As a NASA Datanaut and founder of #EmpowermentThroughCoding, it was amazing to collaborate with Girls Who Code to demystify a NASA mission for such a large audience of girls and young women. Through hosting a social media takeover, I was able to take the 70,000+ members of the Girls Who Code Instagram community along with me to Armstrong as I toured the facilities and aircraft and met with the scientists and engineers behind ATom. While there, I spoke with two female atmospheric scientists who emphasized the importance of learning how to code. “We do a lot of our own data programming. Learn to code. Python, R, Matlab, anything. It’s so incredibly useful.” You can catch the takeover online at @girlswhocode on Instagram. 

Special thanks to these members of the ATom team for helping make the the Girls Who Code takeover a reality:

  • Principal Investigator: Steven Wofsy (Harvard University)
  • Project Manager: Dave Jordan (NASA Ames Research Center)
  • EVS-2 Mission Manager: Jennifer Olson (NASA Langley Research Center)

DC-8 Aircraft taxiing on the runway at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

About Claire

Datanauts Community Manager

NASA Ames Research Center