The INTEX-A field mission was conducted in the summer of 2004 (1 July to 15 August 2004) over North America (NA) and the Atlantic in cooperation with multiple national and international partners as part of a consortium called ICARTT. The main goals of INTEX-A were to (1) characterize the composition of the troposphere over NA, (2) characterize the outflow of pollution from NA and determine its chemical evolution during transatlantic transport, (3) validate satellite observations of tropospheric composition, (4) quantitatively relate atmospheric concentrations of gases and aerosols with their sources and sinks, and (5) investigate aerosol properties and their radiative effects. INTEX-A primarily relied on instrumented DC-8 and J-31 aircraft platforms to achieve its objectives. The DC-8 was equipped to measure detailed gas and aerosol composition and provided sufficient range and altitude capability to coordinate activities with distant partners and to sample the entire midlatitude troposphere. The J-31 was specifically focused on radiative effects of clouds and aerosols and operated largely in the Gulf of Maine. Satellite products along with meteorological and 3-D chemical transport model forecasts were integrated into the flight planning process. Intercomparisons were performed to quantify the accuracy of data and to create a unified data set. Satellite validation activities principally focused on Terra (MOPITT, MODIS, and MISR), Aqua (AIRS and MODIS) and Envisat (SCIAMACHY) to validate observations of CO, NO2, HCHO, H2O, and aerosol. Persistent fires in Alaska and NW Canada offered opportunities to quantify emissions from fires and study the transport and evolution of biomass burning plumes. Contrary to expectations, several pollution plumes of Asian origin, frequently mixed with stratospheric air, were sampled over NA. Quasi-Lagrangian sampling was successfully carried out to study chemical aging of plumes during transport over the Atlantic. Lightning NOx source was found to be far larger than anticipated and provided a major source of error in model simulations. The composition of the upper troposphere was significantly perturbed by influences from surface pollution and lightning. Drawdown of CO2 was characterized over NA and its atmospheric abundance related to terrestrial sources and sinks. INTEX-A observations provide a comprehensive data set to test models and evaluate major pathways of pollution transport over NA and the Atlantic. This overview provides a context within which the present and future INTEX-A/ICARTT publications can be understood.