A science teacher will be part of a six-person team of educators to work with scientists aboard the world's largest airborne observatory.
NASA on Tuesday announced that Margaret Piper will join the team that will fly on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
Piper wasn't immediately available for comment Tuesday afternoon.
SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft fitted with a 100-inch (2.5-meter) diameter telescope, according to NASA. The telescope weighs 20 tons. The program is a joint partnership between NASA and DLR in Bonn, Germany.
SOFIA 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, according to NASA.
"This is a way for educators, museum staff and so on to experience science as it's done firsthand," explained Dana Backman, director of the SOFIA program education and outreach. "The educators are junior partners with the astronomers to understand research and see how it happens.
"You could think of this as analogous to programs that put teachers on ocean cruisers to see how those work."
Piper, part of the first team of educators selected to participate in SOFIA's Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program, won't be in the water, though. She will be in the sky.
"This is the first group of six teachers," Backman said. "We expect eventually to be flying 60 or more per year."
Piper will be aboard the second of two flights carrying the first team. Her flight is scheduled to launch Wednesday, June 1. She was selected from a small pool of applicants who have previously been in SOFIA-related programs or who live geographically close to the Moffitt, Calif.-based aircraft, Backman said. Piper has been in a similar program at the University of Chicago.
Last summer, Piper and two students, Rebecca Rosignolo and Joey Romero, traveled to the California Institute of Technology to take part in a NASA research project at the Spitzer Science Center.
Research has shown that when educators have this kind of hands-on experience, they are inspired to teach more enthusiastically, which causes a better learning environment for students, Backman said.
"When teachers understand how science really works, it's translated back to the classroom, to the students and their communities," the director said. "I'm personally delighted that this is happening."
For more information about SOFIA: http://www.nasa.gov/sofia