Californiaâ¿¿s firefighters get a little help from a friend

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Yesterday NASAâ''s Ikhana remotely piloted aircraft took to the skies to help firefighters struggling to contain the many fires burning in southern California. The plane carried a scanning system built by NASAâ''s Ames Research Center, the Autonomous Modular Sensor-Wildfire, which records images in multiple wavelengths, and therefore is not blinded by smoke.

The hardware hangs in a 180-kg pod under the aircraft, as visible in the photo below, taken yesterday with smoke from the Lake Arrowhead fire in the background. 194165main_ED07-0243-36.jpgNASA has been conducting demonstration flights of the technology throughout this fire season; it got involved yesterday at the request of the California Governorâ''s office. Eventually, NASA hopes, the sensing system will be a regular part of a firefighters arsenal.

But for the hordes of firefighters attacking the southern California fires, the future is now. The images gathered aboard Ikhana during its ten hours aloft yesterday were processed on board and sent via satellite to a server at NASA Ames. NASA team members assigned to fire command camps throughout the affected area, helped firefighters access the image data through special web sites, for example, in the top photo of the Harris Fire in San Diego County, hot spots along the ridgeline are clearly visible.

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