It’s almost here. Less than 12 hours until I’ll be landing in Palmdale, California. I’ve been waiting for this week for 10 months. Ten months since I got the email that said I’d been selected to participate in the Airborne Astronomy Ambassador program at NASA with my co-applicant Jeff Peterson.
Yes, you heard right, NASA…that NASA. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration! Many people think NASA was shut down in 2011 and no longer exists. Not true. While the decision was made to stop funding the Space Shuttle program, the government is still actively funding the International Space Station research, as well as unmanned and commercial crew initiatives. Part of the current research NASA is doing, along with selected university researchers, is with the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). It is a highly modified Boeing 747 equipped with an infrared telescope mounted to collect data in flight. SOFIA saw first light in 2010, but was preceded by the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO) and is a joint operation of NASA and the German space agency DLR. I’m one of 28 educators selected to fly on this aircraft during a scientific mission.
During our week in California, we’ll be passengers on two flight missions. The scientists on board will be studying a variety of cosmic objects. These objects can be star, planets, dust clouds, and more. The list include Beta UMi (brightest star in the bowl of the “Little Dipper”), HL Tau (star in the constellation Taurus), and NGC 2264 (a cone nebula and star cluster) along with others. During our second flight, we will be capturing images of Neptune and Uranus!
In order to participate in this program, after being selected based on the merits of our application, we still had to complete and pass an online graduate-level Astronomy course. I hadn’t had any advanced science or math classes since high school almost 25 years ago and now I was being thrust into a graduate-level astronomy class? It wasn’t easy, but I passed and learned a great deal in the process. We also had multiple video conferences with the staff to learn what safety training and equipment we would receive on site.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll be arriving at LAX and will be taken immediately to the California Science Center for meetings and a tour of the Space Shuttle Endeavor, then proceed to the NASA Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale for more briefing and training. We’ve been sent the schedule for the week and we don’t have a lot of down time between meetings and preparations. However, I plan to blog daily, if possible, to keep everyone up-to-date on my adventure.