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Remote Sensing

Far afield

One of NASA's shining stars, Singh continues to be a world leader in remote sensing.

From oemagazine March 2002
28 March 2002, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.5200203.0009

Upendra Singh

Project after project at the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA), Upendra Singh has proven himself to be an innovator and leader-- both of people and technology. NASA has given Singh top honors, and the international community looks to him for the newest and best in active and passive remote sensing. The bottom line is that Singh gets the job done right and on time no matter what. Take, for example, his adventure in 1995 on Mauna Loa, a 12,600-ft. mountain in Hawaii.

adventure at 12,600 feet

The Singh family celebrates daughter Aimee's 16th birthday. From left: Manisha and Aimee, Upendra Singh and his wife, Sangeeta, and Vivek.

Singh's team had deployed a NASA/GSFC (Goddard Space Flight Center) Mobile Stratospheric Ozone and Aerosol lidar at the summit of the mountain and had to travel from sea level to summit each night to carry out the lidar observations. This journey was a 56-mile, two-hour drive on a treacherous road. "That evening I was accompanied by one of the engineers from GSFC, and we were driving a rental car," says Singh. "It was 9 p.m., we had climbed halfway up the mountain, and suddenly we hit a lava rock and both passenger-side tires were slashed. We had no cell phone, and there was no possibility of anybody coming up on the mountain at that time of night."

They had two choices: they could hike down to the main road where wild boar had been sighted and where they had a slim chance of being picked up, or they could hike to the summit, where they needed to be by 1 a.m. in order to carry out the lidar measurements. That night was especially crucial for the team because both an ER-2 and a DC-8 were making nighttime measurements over the lidar sight. Singh and his companion were responsible for the ground truth measurements for intercomparison and validation. "Consequences were disastrous if we could not cover those flights," says Singh. Singh's colleague guessed that the summit was at most three miles away and a 45-minute hike.

"We started hiking up and continuously hiked for three and a half hours before we saw some light on the summit. We had no water and had only light jackets to handle outside temperatures near freezing. Somehow we made it and also carried out measurements to cover both flights." They were found unharmed the next morning, then set the odometer to measure how far they had traveled that night. "We had hiked 10.2 miles up 6,200 ft. in three and a half hours. I still have not forgiven my colleague for his wild guess!" Singh says with a laugh. Their dedication did not go unnoticed, however. The two were given a NASA/GSFC Outstanding Performance and Technical Support Award for their adventure.

a leader in lidars

Hawaii wasn't Singh's only stop in the field. He has traveled extensively, leading lidar campaigns to remote locations in California, France, and New Zealand. The information obtained from the campaigns has contributed to better understanding of the ozone transport, exchange, and depletion mechanism in the earth's atmosphere.

As chief scientist for Hughes STX Corporation at NASA/GSFC, Singh also designed and developed two state-of-the-art lidar systems--NASA's first mobile stratospheric Rayleigh/Raman ozone lidar system for monitoring ozone depletion and a mobile Aerosol and Temperature (AT) lidar system with three primary (1064, 532, and 351 nm) and one secondary (382 nm) wavelengths for stratospheric aerosol measurements.

At one time, his team had a charter to provide correlative measurement for Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite validation. "The volcanic ash from the Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines had loaded the atmosphere so much that most of the lidars were ineffective due to heavy aerosol loading in the troposphere," explains Singh. Showing his innovativeness, Singh and a team of scientists combined Rayleigh and Raman DIAL (differential absorption lidar) techniques in order to formulate a new system to measure the stratospheric and tropospheric ozone measurements, even during heavy aerosol loading. This method was so effective that it was later adapted by most lidar groups around the world.

Singh in Maui, Hawaii during a U.S. Department of Defense conference, September 2001.

breaking the output barrier

When Singh joined the NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Hampton, VA, as the leader of the Project Integration Team, he took on the development of a solid-state 2-µm laser transmitter for coherent wind detection from space. A key requirement was the development of a 500 mJ laser system that could operate at 10 Hz. At the time, the most advanced 2-µm solid state laser transmitter could only deliver 20-30 mJ.

"I formed a team of engineers and technicians to demonstrate a diode-pumped 2-µm laser transmitter operating at room temperature and delivering 500 mJ pulses at 10 Hz. Within three months, our team was able to demonstrate 700 mJ at 1 Hz. To date this is the highest energy ever produced at 2 µm," says Singh. After only nine months, the team demonstrated the very first 2-µm Ho:Tm:YLF laser transmitter operating at room temperature and delivered laser pulses of 600 mJ energy at 10 Hz. The breakthrough led to multiple awards and worldwide recognition to both Singh and NASA, as well as the award of NASA's NMP Earth-Orbitor-2 shuttle mission, which was the first space-based coherent lidar mission for global wind measurements.

The advance also propelled Singh into leading the development of the Space Readiness Coherent Lidar Experiment (SPARCLE) laser transmitter breadboard. For this he managed, reviewed, and directed an effort to develop a prototype 2-µm laser transmitter breadboard to be used as a baseline in building flight lasers. Showing his persistence and leadership skills, his team delivered the breadboard to the prime contractor four months ahead of schedule. This earned his group NASA's Group Achievement Award in 1998.

Singh continues to lead the 2-µm team to more breakthroughs as a principal investigator of NASA's Advanced Technology Initiative Program. He is currently responsible for the concept-through-application cycle for an advanced solid-state laser transmitter for carbon-dioxide measurements and wind detection from space.

a remote sensing world leader

From a child in a remote Indian village to a world leader in remote sensing, Singh has come a long way. Since 1997 alone, he has chaired 16 conferences and symposiums from Shanghai, China to San Diego, CA, USA, and many places in between. He has a B.S. in honors physics, an M.S. in applied physics, a M.Phil. in physics, a Diplôme d'Etude Approfondis, and a Ph.D. in physics (from the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris, France). Additionally, he spent four years in France as a French Government Scholar. Singh currently serves on 10 international committees and has edited a number of proceedings volumes.

Singh exhibited his leadership skills last year by coordinating the Integrated NASA Lidar System Strategy Team. He selected representatives from NASA, LaRC, and GSFC for the team and formed alliances with other government agencies, industry, and academia. Through workshops and meetings, they assessed the status of laser technology, identified the key technologies that needed developing, and established a basis for future collaboration and partnership. Keeping the long term in mind, Singh says, "I challenged the team to focus on developing enabling technologies leading to multiple missions, rather than technologies suited for a particular mission." Because of the thorough work, the strategy was approved, and Singh was appointed the program lead for the new five-year initiative titled, "Advanced Active Instrument Technology."

"For the first time, we have received endorsement to develop a widely accepted end-to-end laser/lidar technology development strategy and implementation plans involving all of NASA that will enable future space-based lidar measurements to meet NASA's multi-enterprise needs," he says.

Singh has received numerous awards for his leadership at NASA, which culminated in the presentation of NASA's Outstanding Leadership Medal in August 2001. This award is the highest honor NASA gives to its employees and was presented to Singh for his technical and international leadership in the area of active and passive remote sensing during his 11 years at NASA. He is currently head of the Electro-Optics and Controls Branch at LaRC. There he leads the development of advanced electro-optic systems and subsystems for atmospheric, aeronautic, and space flight research missions.

With all that he does at NASA, Singh still finds time to enjoy snorkeling, mountain hiking, chess, and cards. He also confesses to catching every National Football League Washington Redskins game. Singh is especially proud of his family: wife Sangeeta, daughters Aimee, 16, and Manisha, 14, and son Vivek, 10. "My marriage was arranged; we were married on 1 May 1983 in India. Sangeeta joined me in Paris during December 1983, and we moved to the United States in 1985," he says. "Sangeeta has always supported me and taken pride in all my accomplishments. If it were not for the support of my wife and children, I would not have gotten to where I am now."