In 2003, Dr. Dana Backman became the manager of SOFIA E/PO, a program subcontracted by USRA to the SETI Institute and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Prior to that he was a professor of physics and astronomy at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania for 12 years.
An infrared astronomer, he received his doctoral degree in astrophysics from the University of Hawai'i. He worked on several research flights of SOFIA's predecessor the Kuiper Airborne Observatory while an NRC post-doc at NASA-Ames. Before that he was a post-doctoral researcher and infrared observer support scientist at Kitt Peak Observatory.
Dana's research interests included formation of planetary systems, nearby stars with planetary debris disks, and the evolution of our solar system, especially the Kuiper Belt. He published a paper in 2009 combining Spitzer infrared space telescope data with ground-based sub-millimeter observations of the nearby solar-type star epsilon Eridani (Backman et al. 2009, Ap.J. 690, 1522)." He is currently working on combining Spitzer infrared space telescope data with ground-based sub-millimeter observations of the nearby solar-type star epsilon Eridani. These observations indicate that eps Eri is remarkably similar to the way our solar system was at the tender age of 0.7 billion years, with a hefty outer Kuiper Belt and inner asteroid belt plus a possible Jupiter-mass planet in a Jupiter-like orbit. Epsilon Eridani, of course, was one of the two stars in Frank Drake’s pioneering SETI search more than 40 years ago.
Dana is no longer an active astronomy researcher, although some of his old collaborators occasionally still put his name near the end of big author lists on papers regarding debris disks and planet formation. Two things (there are others) that get him up in the morning with a smile on his face are: managing the program to train educators from across the U.S. to fly on SOFIA as partners with research astronomers, and working for the SETI Institute, literally a childhood dream.