Press Release

NASA Selects Classroom Teachers For SOFIA Science Flights

By SpaceRef Editor
May 10, 2011
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MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. — NASA has selected six teachers to work with scientists aboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) during research flights in May and June. This is the first team of educators selected to participate in SOFIA’s Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program.

SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft fitted with a 100 inch (2.5 meter) diameter telescope. It analyzes infrared light to study the formation of stars and planets; chemistry of interstellar gases; composition of comets, asteroids and planets; and supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies. Infrared observations are optimal for studying low-temperature objects in space such as the raw materials for star and planet formation and for seeing through interstellar dust clouds that block light at visible wavelengths.

“Enabling educators to join SOFIA’s scientific research and take that experience back to their schools and communities is a unique opportunity for NASA to enhance science and math education across the country,” said John Gagosian, SOFIA program executive at agency headquarters in Washington. “More than 70 teachers flew on NASA’s previous flying observatory, the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, from 1991 through 1995, and that program had long-lasting, positive effects on both the teachers and their students.”

The six teachers selected for the SOFIA program submitted applications that included plans for taking their training and flight experience back to their classrooms. The teachers selected are:

— Marita Beard, Branham High School, San Jose, Calif.
— Mary Blessing, Herndon High School, Herndon, Va.
— Cris DeWolf, Chippewa Hills High School, Remus, Mich.
— Kathleen Joanne Fredette, Desert Willow Intermediate School, Palmdale, Calif.
— Theresa Paulsen, Mellen School District, Mellen, Wis.
— Margaret Piper, Lincoln Way High School, Frankfort, Ill.

“We know teachers who participate in science research programs return inspired, and their students’ engagement with technical subjects are measurably increased for many years afterward,” said Dana Backman, manager of SOFIA’s education and outreach programs. “Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors is an outstanding opportunity for NASA to reach out to both new and veteran teachers of science, technology, engineering and math to bring the excitement of real science research into the classroom and the community at large.”

NASA’s international partners in developing and operating SOFIA, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI), will fly educators as well. The DLR and DSI plan to announce their first two ambassadors later this month.

SOFIA is a joint program between NASA and DLR in Bonn, Germany. The SOFIA program is managed at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. The aircraft is based at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association in Columbia, Md., and DSI in Stuttgart, Germany.

NASA will host an online video chat about SOFIA with Project Scientist Pamela Marcum for approximately one hour at 1 p.m. EDT on Thursday, May 12. Participants will join a conversation about SOFIA’s first science flights, targets of opportunity, and plans for future flights. Based at Ames Research Center, Marcum is an expert on galaxy evolution and worked on the first extensive ultraviolet imaging of nearby galaxies. For more information on the chat and to participate, visit:

For more information about SOFIA, visit:

For information about SOFIA’s science missions, visit: and

SpaceRef staff editor.