Environment: Flying High - and Hairy

From preflight preparation to landing, piloting NASA's specially equipped ER- 2 high-altitude research aircraft is not for the fainthearted. The three pilots who flew the twelve solo missions through the Antarctic ozone hole found the task grueling. An hour before zooming into the stratosphere, each had to don a bright orange pressure suit and begin breathing pure oxygen to remove nitrogen from the blood and tissues, thus preventing the bends, which can result from rapid reductions in air pressure. Once airborne, "you have to have patience," says Pilot Ron Williams, who flew the first mission. "You're strapped into a seat and...

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