NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy Airborne Astronomy Ambassador (AAA) Program

SOFIA plane

Flights for the Cycle 2 AAA cohort have been completed and we are now supporting those Ambassadors to continue NASA– and SOFIA–oriented  education & public engagement work in their local communities.


Cycle 3 AAA Application website will open later this month. Please check back for updates.

SOFIA is a 747SP aircraft carrying a 2.5 meter-diameter telescope dedicated to astronomical research. The telescope, associated equipment, and observing team are in the pressurized main cabin. AAA program participants will fly on overnight missions, at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet. The 8 – 10 hour flight experience will be similar in environmental conditions (temperature, seating, turbulence) to a regular commercial airline flight, although interior noise level will be higher and the cabin will be cooler. Participants will observe an operating astronomical observatory first-hand and interact with scientists, engineers, and flight crew.

SOFIA AAA aims to-

  • Enhance Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education in communities across the U.S.
  • Support NASA’s goal of inspiring the next generation of explorers
  • Contribute to general public understanding of the value of scientific research
  • Foster national and international visibility of NASA’s SOFIA Mission.

SOFIA AAA Cycle 2 educator team members each commit to-

  • Flying on overnight observing mission(s) aboard SOFIA during the science flight season January – December 2014, actual dates TBD
  • Participating in pre- and post-flight trainings and meetings associated with SOFIA flights and scientific research
  • Traveling to SOFIA’s base in Palmdale, CA (near Burbank, CA) on a Monday and departing the following Friday afternoon or Saturday. Please note, this means leaving your classroom / work site for a week.
  • Regular communication with program staff and scientists prior to arrival at Dryden Aircraft Operation Facility (DAOF), in Palmdale, CA.
  • Developing or modifying existing materials and implementing a SOFIA-based classroom curriculum component and/or informal education curriculum component of their design
  • Planning and implementing a SOFIA-based public outreach component of their design
  • Successfully completing the online course Astronomy For Teachers, (administered by Montana State University and the National Teacher Enhancement Network (NTEN)). The course will be held during fall semester 2013, actual dates TBD. The course requires approximately 12 – 15 hours of work per week.
  • Active participation in the formative evaluation process

SOFIA offers to Cycle 2 educator Ambassador teams-

  • A unique and special opportunity to be an active and important part of the formative process for the AAA program
  • Access to NASA scientists and educational information via electronic communications
  • An Active Astronomy infrared light curriculum kit for each team member
  • Support materials for education and outreach, e.g. SOFIA lithos, bookmarks, brochures, stickers and PowerPoint files

SOFIA AAAs will become-

  • Better informed regarding how frontier scientific research is conducted.
  • Better informed regarding the breadth and depth of contemporary astrophysics research
  • Better prepared to advise students on careers in science and technology
  • Members of the SOFIA AAA educator network, contributing to continued program development and supporting communications and opportunities via electronic communications and social networking

Important note regarding AAA flight dates-

  • January – December 2014, specific dates TBD. Most teams will be scheduled on science flights during the school year. SOFIA’s science flight schedule will not be determined until after the AAA application deadline and will be subject to change up to the actual flight date.
  • Tentatively, a given AAA team will fly twice during their week’s stay in Palmdale, CA.

Support provided by SOFIA Outreach-

  • Travel expenses, housing, and meals for required pre-flight meetings, flight, and required post-flight meetings
  • Online training course registration fee and graduate course credit
  • Substitute teacher costs reimbursed to the school district
  • Letter certifying additional hours of professional development in pre- and post- flight, and flight hours

Two-person Team Eligibility and Composition-

  • One member must be a full-time science teacher (formal educator) in either middle school or high school.
  • The second member may be a full time in-service formal (classroom) educator in any grade, a full time informal (museum, science center, planetarium, etc.) educator, a community college instructor, or an amateur astronomer with an extensive outreach history.
  • Complete application (including essays and support letters) received in electronic form by the deadline (May 3, 2013)
  • Participants must be able to walk up a steep and narrow stairway unassisted, sit for an extended period of time in a pressurized cabin and carry flight materials unassisted..
  • Participants must also be able to meet flight surgeon’s safety requirements, including being able to assist in the evacuation of the aircraft in the event of an emergency.
  • AAA program applicants must be a US Citizen or legal resident teaching in a U.S. school.

Selection Process-

  • Applications must be received by May 3, 2013, via website. No faxed applications will be accepted. No mailed applications will be accepted.
  • Both team members must submit the application and attachments.
  • Teams will be selected based on the information in the application and in the essays.
  • Selections will be announced by end of June 2013.

For further information or questions, please contact Pamela Harman at: or (650) 960-4523