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

SOFIA plane

Cycle 3 AAA Application is now open. Click to apply.

SOFIA is a 747SP aircraft carrying a 2.5 meter-diameter telescope dedicated to astronomical research at altitudes up to 45,000 ft. The scientific research team, including AAA program participants, work in the pressurized main cabin. The 8 – 10 hour flight experience will be similar in environmental conditions 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 facility first-hand and interact with scientists, engineers, and flight crew.

SOFIA AAA aims to:

  • Enhance Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education in communities across the U.S.
  • Support NASA’s objective to advance the Nation’s STEM education by engaging students, teachers and faculty in NASA’s missions and unique assets.
  • Contribute to general public understanding of the value of scientific research.
  • Foster national and international visibility of NASA’s SOFIA mission.

SOFIA AAA Cycle 3 educator team members each commit to:

  • Participate in overnight observing mission(s) aboard SOFIA during science flights likely to be scheduled during May, June, and September 2015 (actual dates TBD).
  • Participate in pre- and post-flight training and meetings associated with SOFIA flights and scientific research.
  • Travel to SOFIA’s base in Palmdale, Calif. (near Los Angeles) on a Sunday or Monday and depart the following Friday or Saturday. Please note, this means leaving your classroom / work site for a full week.
  • Regular communication with SOFIA program staff and scientists prior to arrival at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) Building 703 research aircraft facility in Palmdale.
  • Develop or modify existing materials, and implement a SOFIA-oriented classroom curriculum component and/or informal education curriculum component of their design.
  • Plan and implement a SOFIA-oriented public outreach component of their design.
  • Successfully complete the online Astronomy For Teachers course administered by Montana State University and the National Teacher Enhancement Network (NTEN). The course will be held mid-February – mid-May, and will require approximately 12 – 15 hours of work per week.
  • Active participation in ongoing evaluation processes and reporting of activities.

SOFIA offers to Cycle 3 educator Ambassador teams:

  • The opportunity to be active and important participants in the education and public engagement work for this unique and high profile NASA program. Special access to NASA scientists, engineers, and other mission personnel.
  • An Active Astronomy infrared light curriculum kit for each team member.
  • Support materials for education and outreach, e.g. SOFIA lithographs, brochures, stickers, and PowerPoint presentation 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 STEM fields.
  • Members of the SOFIA AAA educator network, contributing to mutual professional development and continued AAA program implementation via electronic communications and social networking.

Important note regarding AAA Cycle 3 flight dates:

  • Flights likely will be during May, June or September, 2015; specific dates are yet TBD. Most teams will be scheduled on science flights during the school year. SOFIA’s science flight schedule will be subject to change up to the actual flight dates.
  • 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 spanning the dates of required pre-flight meetings, flights, and required post-flight meetings.
  • Online training course registration fee and graduate course credit.
  • Substitute teacher costs, to be reimbursed to the school district.
  • Letter certifying additional pre-flight, flight, and post-flight hours of professional development.

Two-person Team Eligibility and Composition Requirements:

  • One member must be a full-time science teacher (formal educator) in either middle school or high school.
  • The second member may be an in-service formal (classroom) educator in any subject and grade, or an informal (museum, science center, planetarium, etc.) educator, or a community college instructor, or an amateur astronomer with an extensive outreach history.
  • Complete application (including essays and support letters) must be received in electronic form by the December 22, 2014, 11:59 pm PST, deadline.
  • 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 (personal items, briefing books, etc.) unassisted.
  • Participants also must be able to meet the NASA AFRC 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 received by December 22, 2014, 11:59 pm PST, via website. No faxed applications will be accepted. No mailed applications will be accepted.
  • Both team members must submit applications and all attachments (see details below).
  • Teams will be selected based on the information in the application and in the essays.
  • Selected teams will be notified in February 2015.

Application Items (prepare all documents before starting the online process)

  • Entry of your professional history.
  • 2-page personal essay and team outreach plan.*
  • Signature page, signed, scanned and saved as a PDF Lastname.Initial.Signature.pdf.
  • Letter of support, signed, scanned and saved as a PDF Lastname.Initial.Support.pdf.
  • Letter of reference must be signed, scanned and saved as a PDF Lastname.Initial.Recommendation.pdf

Note: Maximum PDF file size is 1 MB.

*Essay page 1
1. Describe your teaching (formal or informal): how you bring new ideas and concepts into your classroom/facility; how you integrate science with other disciplines; how you connect your classroom/facility to the real world; how you promote educational excellence in your school and community; and describe your students’ experience in your classroom/facility.
2. Describe the particular needs of your classroom/school or informal education venue. For example, informal educators should include the nature and amount of astronomy exhibits, the proportion of school/ teacher visits that are elementary, middle or high school, etc. Describe why you think your participation in the SOFIA AAA Program will help meet those needs.

*Essay page 2
3. Outline a plan to use the knowledge and resources received during the SOFIA AAA program and flight experience for community outreach effort (e.g. astronomy club, science center, museum, youth organizations, professional development for informal/formal educators). Define your role and responsibilities in the team, how team members will collaborate, and detail why your collaboration will be effective.