Space & Technology

March 18, 2016

NASA selects educators to fly with astronomers on SOFIA

NASA has selected 11 educator teams for its 2016 Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program.

The program is a professional development opportunity for educators designed to improve teaching methods and to inspire students. As part of the preparation, the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors complete a graduate credit astronomy course and are partnered with professional astronomers to participate as the scientists conduct research on board NASA’s flying telescope, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.

SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP jetliner fitted with a 2.5-meter (100-inch) telescope that uses a suite of seven instruments to study celestial objects at infrared wavelengths during 10-hour overnight science missions. SOFIA flies at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet (12-14 kilometers) above more than 99 percent of the water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere that blocks infrared energy from reaching ground-based observatories.

“NASA’s SOFIA observatory provides a fantastic opportunity for educators to witness scientific observations being conducted first-hand so they can better understand and appreciate the research process,” said Hashima Hasan, SOFIA program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “SOFIA presents a unique opportunity for educators to interact with researchers making observations on board the SOFIA airborne observatory. The educators can then take what they learn back into their classrooms and communities to convey the value of scientific research as well as the wide variety of science, technology, engineering, and math career paths available to students.”

The 2016 cohort of Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors includes the following teams:

• Ashley Adams (Trevor-Wilmont Consolidated School, Trevor, Wisconsin) and Geoff Holt (Madison Metropolitan School District, Madison, Wisc.)
• Jeff Baldwin (Lathrop High School, Lathrop, Calif.) and Larry Grimes Sierra High School, Manteca, Calif.)
• Rex Beltz (Rock Bridge High School, Columbia, Missouri) and Melanie Knocke (Columbia Public Schools Planetarium, Columbia, Mo.)
• Lizette Cabrera and Cassandra Cabrera (Mendez Fundamental Intermediate School, Santa Ana, Calif.)
• Jennifer Catelli (Rising Tide Charter Public School, Plymouth, Massachusetts) and Eric O’Dea (Museum of Science, Boston, Mass.)
• Edie Frisbie (Joseph Henry Elementary School, Galway, New York) and Paul Levin (Galway High School, Galway, N.Y.) 
• Connie Gusmus (Guntown Middle School, Guntown, Mississippi) and Robert Swanson (Itawamba Community College, Fulton, Miss.)
• Alison Hinesman (Chagrin Falls Middle School and Chagrin Falls High School, Chagrin Falls, Ohio) and Ebony Moreen (Heritage Middle School, Painesville, Ohio).
• Jennifer Hubbell-Thomas (Williamsville Junior High, Williamsville, Ill.) and Stacey Shrewsbury (Challenger Learning Center at Heartland Community College, Normal, Ill.)
• Wendi Rodriguez (The Heritage School, Phelan, Calif.) and Marie Thornsberry (Hughbanks Elementary, Rialto, Calif.)
• Joseph Wright (Astronomical Society of Kansas City, Blue Springs, Mo.) and Lario Yerino (Liberty North High School, Liberty, Mo.)

These ambassadors, who are expected to fly during fall and winter 2016, join three previous Airborne Astronomy Ambassador cohorts for a total of 106 educators selected from 31 states and the District of Columbia.

SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA program. The aircraft is based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, Calif. Ames manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart. The SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in San Francisco manage SOFIA’s education and public engagement programs.

Here are the educators selected for the 2016 Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) Airborne Astronomy Ambassador program.

For more information about SOFIA, visit or For information about SOFIA’s science mission, visit or Additional information about the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors can be found at

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