Private Pilots, NASA Wants Your Help

Private Pilots, NASA Wants Your Help
August 2, 2016
Algal bloom near Toledo Ohio
The space agency is looking for general aviation pilots to help track harmful algal blooms.

August 1, 2016
By Zach Rosenberg
Photo Credit: NASA/

Ever wanted to fly for NASA, but lack test pilot experience? That’s ok! If you own a general aviation airplane and don’t mind flying over water, NASA wants to speak with you. The agency, along with its research partners in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and universities, are looking for a way to track harmful algal blooms. You can fly whenever and wherever you like, so long as it’s over water. The only catch: It’s all on your personal dime....

Algal blooms thrive on nutrients like phosphates, one of the primary ingredients in fertilizers that are spread on farms by the ton. The runoff from farms makes its way into local waterways, eventually concentrating into drainage basins, causing blooms far larger and more frequent than would occur naturally. Algal blooms are generally harmless in natural quantities, but big, sustained blooms cause big problems. All those algae dying and decomposing (they have very short lives) brings bacteria that consume oxygen, leading to hypoxic ‘dead zones’ where virtually no life can survive. Blue-green algae also produce a waste substance called microcystin, which is toxic to people and animals.

Forecasting exactly when, where and how these Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) will begin and grow is still a problem. That’s where general aviation comes in.

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