Greenon educator selected as SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador

February 26, 2014

ENON — A Greenon Local School District teacher has been selected as one of 24 educators to participate in NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, when it becomes a flying classroom for teachers during research flights in the next few months.

“We are very excited to have one of our educators, Mr. Tom Jenkins, participating in this prestigious program,” said Superintendent Dan Bennett. “This will be a valuable opportunity for Mr. Jenkins and for our students as he incorporates his experiences with the SOFIA Ambassador program into his classes.”

Jenkins, STEM Teacher at Indian Valley Middle School, will be a 2014 SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador. Twelve two-person teams have been selected for SOFIA’s Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program, representing educators from 10 states. Jenkins’ partner is Heidi Steinbrink of Oakwood High School.

“I’m very honored to have been selected to be a NASA SOFIA Airborne Ambassador,” said Jenkins. “Growing up, I had always dreamed of being an astronaut. Then life happened and even though it has been a very blessed life, that particular dream faded away. To have a chance to participate in actual NASA research missions is likely to be one of the highlights of my life.

“While I will not be going into space, I will be part of a NASA team that’s conducting research at 39,000-45,000 ft. It’s my hope that if my son or my students get to share in my experiences that maybe they will be inspired to be pursue careers that will allow them to be a part of NASA. Maybe even be an astronaut. In some ways that would not only fulfill my dream, but it would make the end result that much more rewarding.”

Each team will be paired with a professional astronomer to observe first-hand how airborne infrared astronomy is conducted. Jenkins’ flight will be the week of May 4. After their flight opportunities, Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors will take what they learn back to their classrooms and into their communities to promote science literacy.

“The primary goal of my STEM class is that students experience an environment that is very similar to a real life STEM field workplace,” said Jenkins. “Activities such as extensive planning, working within constraints, testing, evaluating, presentations, peer reviews, etc. are all part of process. I think that through sharing my NASA experiences with my students they will see these mechanisms in action. Additionally, they will get to see how cutting edge research is conducted and work with brilliant people along the way.

SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP jetliner fitted with a 100-inch (2.5-meter) effective diameter telescope. The aircraft flies at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet (12-14 kilometers), above the water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere, and collects data in the infrared spectrum.

“SOFIA offers educator teams unprecedented access to infrared astronomers and the unique capabilities of an airborne observatory,” said John Gagosian, SOFIA program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Previous Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors teams have witnessed SOFIA’s world-class astronomical science and have used this experience in hundreds of science, technology, engineering and math teaching opportunities throughout the United States.”

“Educators are selected through a rigorous peer-reviewed process for this yearly professional development opportunity,” said astronomer Dana Backman, manager of SOFIA’s education and public outreach programs at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “To date, the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors’ program has flown 15 teams totaling 31 educators from 17 states, and we look forward to working with this new cadre of educators as they take NASA science into their communities.”

SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., manages the program. Ames manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

Story courtesy of Greenon Local Schools.