Officially named an Airborne Astronomy Ambassador (AAA) by NASA, Smith will fly on the converted Boeing 747 sometime in the fall of 2019. She will spend a week in Palmdale, training and working out of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. She will be scheduled to fly on two missions, which conducts research submitted years in advance from scientists representing the world’s leading universities.
“I am so grateful to be a part of NASA's Airborne Astronomy Ambassador program this year,” Smith said. “I'm looking forward to learning more about how we study the universe using infrared telescopes on the SOFIA flying laboratory.”
Once her missions have been completed, Smith will return to the classroom with curriculum provided by NASA she will then share with her students.
SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP airliner fitted with a 2.7-meter (106-inch) telescope and using a suite of seven cameras & spectrographs to study celestial objects at infrared wavelengths. SOFIA operates during 10-hour overnight science missions at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet (12-14 kilometers), above more than 99 percent of the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere that blocks infrared light from reaching ground-based observatories.
“NASA’s SOFIA observatory provides a fantastic opportunity for teachers to better understand and appreciate the research process by interacting with scientists and mission crew members,” said Dr. Dana Backman, AAA program Principal Investigator. “The teachers can then take what they learn back to their classrooms, schools, and school districts, conveying the value of scientific research and adding real-world content to high school learning environments. The AAA’s first-hand experiences also can illuminate the wide variety of STEM career paths available to students.”