College of the Canyons adjunct instructors Christine Hirst and Thomas Gavin have been selected by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute to join the 2017-18 NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA) program, joining 37 high school physics and earth science teachers from seven California school districts.
Hirst and Gavin, who teach astronomy and physical science at COC, will fly this fall aboard NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), the world’s largest aircraft-based observatory that flies at altitudes between 39,000 to 45,000 feet.
“This is the only space program of its kind in the world, so this is such an honor,” said Hirst, who also teaches earth science and engineering at West Ranch High School. “I applied to this two years ago and was denied, so this is a dream of mine.”
Positioned above more than 99 percent of the atmosphere’s water vapor, SOFIA makes it possible to conduct experiments and gather data that would otherwise be impossible to obtain.
The modified Boeing 747SP aircraft, which is based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center facility in Palmdale, carries a reflecting telescope with an effective diameter of 2.5 meters.
“I have been teaching science for over 30 years and can’t believe that this opportunity to contribute to the science that I teach has been offered for me to participate in,” said Gavin, who is also a physics teacher at West Ranch High School. “I am very proud to represent our great COC science program, and I know that this experience will help me to build a better classroom experience for my students.”
AAA participants receive preflight preparation through online learning modules, workshops and webinars.
An intensive science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) experience, the SOFIA flight week provides participating educators with access to subject matter experts at NASA and science curricula to engage students in the classroom with real-world science.
“My high school students launch a weather balloon each year, so I am very excited to fly where my students' experiments have flown,” said Hirst. “I plan to apply to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a solar system ambassador following this experience, and will definitely bring the lessons into all of my classes.”
SOFIA, a partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Center, welcomed its first group of educators in 2011.