When Robert Black, astronomy teacher at North Medford High school, heard about the program offered by NASA that lets teachers soar into the reaches of space to look through the eyes of an infrared telescope, he was excited by the prospect of seeing space from a different perspective.
SOFIA is the name of the program and stands for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. It is a joint operation by NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). A specially equipped Boeing 747SP aircraft lifts 12 teams of two people along with professional astronomers into the area above the earth’s water vapor where the 2.5 meter infrared telescope can look without distortion. So far 15 teams from 17 states have shared this adventure.
Robert Black and Dave Bloomsness, an amateur astronomer who is active with Southern Oregon Skywatchers, will be aboard in April or May, 2014. They will take off from the Dryden Aircraft Facility near Palm Dale, California for an all-night flight.
"Educators are selected through a rigorous peer-reviewed process for this yearly professional development opportunity," said astronomer Dana Backman, manager of SOFIA's education and public outreach programs at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field.
All that excitement and honor carries obligations as well. First both members of the team have to pass a graduate level astronomy course. When they return to Medford they will be expected to share the experience with both students and members of the community.
Those obligations will not be chores to either Mr. Black or Mr. Bloomsness since they have been sharing their astronomy fascination with the community through both the high school program and the Southern Oregon Skywatchers organization. The Skywatchers schedule events throughout the year where members of the community can share peering through a telescope into the wonders of space.
The North Medford High School planetarium was constructed by Spitz Inc. in 1967 with a grant from the Federal Apollo Program. The 80 seat Planetarium has seen almost continuous use for 45 years. Mr. Black has been there since 2006 with a constant schedule of events for school students and for the public.
The community of Medford can share in the reflected glory of this honor to Robert Black and Dave Bloomsness.