Cycle 6 Airborne Astronomy Ambassador Flights Completed

Cycle 6 Airborne Astronomy Ambassador Flights Completed

For the first time in the U.S. AAA program, one of this group’s SOFIA flights was shared with four teacher Ambassadors from Germany.

Image of U.S. Ambassadors with their German counterparts
U.S. Ambassadors with their German counterparts Klaus-Dieter Nijakowsi (far left), Gertrud Nagel (2nd from left), Jennifer Kudla (3rd from right), and Anne Schmieder (far right).

The SETI Institute’s NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA) completed their 2018 season with two overnight research flights on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) at the end of October.

Three teacher Ambassadors, Stephan Unterhoizner, Joseph Verderame, and James Wright, received intensive professional development experiences at NASA’s airborne science facility in Palmdale, California during the week of their SOFIA flights. The teachers in this group were all high school science instructors from the Manteca Unified School District in California’s Central Valley. Their flight week experiences were facilitated by AAA program lead and SETI Institute education staff member Dr. Dana Backman.

Last teacher ambassadors for 2019
Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (from left) Joseph Verderame, Stephan Unterholzner, and James Wright in front of SOFIA in its Palmdale hangar.

The EXES (Echelon-cross-Echelle Spectrograph) instrument was mounted on SOFIA’s telescope during both flights. The EXES spectrograph makes extremely high-resolution spectra in the mid-infrared wavelength range. These spectra allow investigations, for example, of chemical reactions in planetary and stellar atmospheres:

https://www.sofia.usra.edu/science/instruments/exes

For the first time in the U.S. AAA program, one of this group’s SOFIA flights was shared with four teacher Ambassadors from Germany, escorted by Dr. Antje Lischke-Weis of the German SOFIA Institute in Stuttgart. U.S. teacher Stephan Unterholzner said, “It was fascinating to get to know our German counterparts and find out how similar in some ways, but how very different in other ways, the education environments are in our respective countries. We had a great time together onboard SOFIA and during the week in Palmdale.”

A crew from Fresno CBS TV-47 was on hand during the flight week and produced a multi-segment feature story regarding SOFIA. The third segment featured the Manteca teachers:

https://www.yourcentralvalley.com/news/nasa-space-and-science/central-valley-teachers-ride-on-world-s-largest-airborne-observatory/1600049515

The window to apply for next year’s AAA program, Cycle 7, has closed and applications are being reviewed. The SETI Institute will announce Cycle 7 participants in early 2019.

About the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors Program:
The Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA) program is designed to measurably enhance student STEM achievement and engagement in selected school districts via professional development for high school science teachers. AAA participant professional development consists of training in astrophysics and planetary science content as well as a week-long STEM immersion experience at NASA’s science research aircraft facility in Palmdale, California, including participation in research flights on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Post-flight, AAA program staff then help participant teachers implement a NASA science-oriented electromagnetic spectrum and infrared astronomy curriculum module, developed by the SETI Institute, in their classrooms.