Three William S. Hart Union High School District junior high science teachers are now “Stratonauts” as they flew with scientists from around the world on board NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
Marisa Heflin, Shelley Turski and Stacy Robb-Wade flew through the night above 40,000 feet on the converted 747 that carries one of the most sophisticated telescopes in the world. The NASA aircraft flies above 99% of the Earth’s water vapor in order to provide researchers the best opportunity to view the universe.
“Participating in-flight week was one of the most exciting and inspiring experiences of my life so far,” said Marisa Heflin from Arroyo Seco Junior High. “I am floored by the operations on SOFIA and how so many different people are able to come together and make it possible to fly almost every weekday in order to conduct all kinds of research. I learned so much and can’t wait to start sharing all my experiences with my students.”
NASA dubs the teachers Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors as they train for their flights, work alongside the researchers, and then bring their experiences back to their students in the classroom with curriculum from NASA.
“Our immersion week with SOFIA was truly a fabulous experience,” said Shelley Turski from La Mesa Junior High. “I learned so much about how astronomy is researched, how the telescope works, and how the sensors are operated. And I see a lot of connections to my classroom in the area of STEM jobs and career pathways that even I never knew about. The crew and telescope operators were so gracious and willing to discuss their pathway to their current job and no two stories were the same.”
SOFIA makes it possible to obtain astronomical data that are impossible to obtain from telescopes on the ground.
“Observing and learning about everything that has gone into the SOFIA program is truly remarkable,” said Stacy Robb-Wade from Rio Norte Junior High. “Being on board and watching the radiation being generated from a galaxy 1,600 million light-years away be detected and collected by SOFIA instruments, then turned into information that will tell us about star formation and galaxy evolution, blows my mind.”