The SETI Institute’s NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador Program was one of the 27 organizations from across the United States selected by NASA for cooperative agreement awards to implement a new strategic approach to more effectively engage learners of all ages on NASA science education programs and activities.
For many people, science is something they read about in textbooks – abstract, mysterious, and sterile. But the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program run by the SETI Institute together with the Astronomical Society of the Pacific dispels these myths by taking teachers and other educators to where science is being done. By pulling back the curtain on contemporary astronomy observations, participants learn that science is both a very human and very exciting endeavor. They, in turn, convey these lessons to the next generation.
During the Ambassadors program, 28 educators – from both classrooms and informal venues such as museums and planetariums – will be taken aloft onboard NASA’s SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) aircraft, and will spend hours monitoring and interacting with the astronomers who are making observations that, because the Earth’s atmosphere blocks infrared light coming from space, can only be done on high.
“One thing that’s surprising to them is that scientists often work in teams; science is a social phenomenon,” comments Dana Backman, the manager of the SOFIA education and outreach program. “It’s really blood, sweat, and tears. You go out to measure A and you measure B, and all the while you’re turning a screwdriver, because your instrument doesn’t work.”
The flight aboard the telescope-equipped 747 is merely the start of the experience for the educators. Afterwards, they bring their training back to their communities. It’s a way to let young people see that science is not an esoteric endeavor, removed from the reality of everyday existence, but one that’s accessible, exciting, and a possible career choice.
Details of the Ambassadors program, and the newly selected participants can be found here www.sofia.usra.edu/News/news_2015/02_26_15/index.html.