My supervisor, Professor Craig Kletzing, and Dr. Scott Bounds, another University of Iowa scientist, build instruments for NASA sounding rockets. In the fall of 2006, I had the opportunity to help them test instruments that will be flown on the “Correlations of High-Frequencies and Auroral Roar Measurements” (CHARM). I was very excited about working on this project. I've always wanted to be a rocket scientist!
NASA sounding rockets carry scientific instruments into space to help scientists study the Sun, the Earth’s upper atmosphere, and the aurora borealis. The name “sounding rocket” comes from the nautical term “to sound,” which means “to measure.” In oceanography, sounding is a way to measure the depth of a body of water or to investigate the bottom of the sea using a weighted line. In the space and atmospheric sciences, we use sounding rockets to probe the upper atmosphere or space. A sounding rocket is launched into space on a parabolic trajectory, which means it goes up into space, makes measurements, and then falls back to the Earth. Sounding rockets are sub-orbital, so they do not go into orbit around the Earth, although they can reach altitudes higher than the orbit of the International Space Station (~390 km).
Jim LaBelle from Dartmouth College is the principal investigator of the CHARM sounding rocket. The CHARM payload has instruments to measure electrons, electric fields, and magnetic fields that were designed to help us learn about high-frequency waves in the Earth’s aurora. Scientists from the University of Iowa built the electron detectors for CHARM. NASA uses many different types of sounding rockets to launch scientific instruments into space. The CHARM payload will be launched on board a type of sounding rocket called a Black Brant XII. The launch will take place in late February or March 2007 at the Poker Flat Research Range near Fairbanks, Alaska. On the launch schedule, our rocket is called LaBelle 40.019. CHARM is the last of 10 sounding rockets that will be launched from Poker Flat to study the northern lights during the winter of 2007.