NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, will become a flying classroom for teachers during research flights in the next few months.
Twelve two-person teams have been selected for SOFIA's Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program, representing educators from 10 states. Each will be paired with a professional astronomer to observe first-hand how airborne infrared astronomy is conducted. After their flight opportunities, Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors will take what they learn back to their classrooms and into their communities to promote science literacy.
SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP jetliner fitted with a 100-inch (2.5-meter) effective diameter telescope. The aircraft flies at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet (12-14 kilometers), above the water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere, and collects data in the infrared spectrum.
"SOFIA offers educator teams unprecedented access to infrared astronomers and the unique capabilities of an airborne observatory," said John Gagosian, SOFIA program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Previous Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors teams have witnessed SOFIA's world-class astronomical science and have used this experience in hundreds of science, technology, engineering and math teaching opportunities throughout the United States."
SOFIA's Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors for 2014 are:
- Megan Tucker and Dan Molik, The Palmdale Aerospace Academy, Palmdale, Calif.
- Barbel Sepulveda, Lincoln High School, and Chris Rauschenfels, Sierra Middle School, Stockton, Calif.
- Nathan Mahoney, Pine Crest School, Deerfield Beach, Fla. and Héllen Tavora, South Florida Amateur Astronomers Association and Fox Astronomical Observatory, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
- Marcella Linahan, Carmel Catholic High School, Mundelein, Ill., and Lynne Zielinski National Space Society, Long Grove, Ill.
- Judi Little and LeeAnn Vaughan, Burke High School, Omaha, Neb.
- Margaret Holzer, Chatham High School, Somerset, N.J., and Theresa Roelofsen Moody, New Jersey Astronomy Center at Raritan Valley Community College, High Bridge, N.J.
- Michael Maccarone and Elizabeth Rosenberger, Avenues: The World School, New York
- Tom Jenkins, Dayton Regional STEM Center and Greenon Local Schools, Enon, Ohio, and Heidi Steinbrink, Oakwood Senior High School, Dayton, Ohio
- Robert Black, North Medford High School, and Dave Bloomsness, Southern Oregon Skywatchers, Medford, Ore.
- George Hademenos and Diane Watson, Richardson High School, Richardson, Texas
- Kim Abegglen and Anna-Melissa Lyons, Hockinson Middle School, Vancouver, Wash.
- Kathy Gustavson, Nicolet High School, Whitefish Bay, Wisc., and Jean Creighton, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Manfred Olson Planetarium, Milwaukee.
"Educators are selected through a rigorous peer-reviewed process for this yearly professional development opportunity," said astronomer Dana Backman, manager of SOFIA's education and public outreach programs at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "To date, the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors' program has flown 15 teams totaling 31 educators from 17 states, and we look forward to working with this new cadre of educators as they take NASA science into their communities."
SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., manages the program. Ames manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.