The University of Chicago News Office
Oct. 11, 1995 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
(773) 702-8366

Chicago Public High School Students Hook Up With Scientists in Live Broadcast From Kuiper Airborne Observatory

A live, interactive television link between NASA’s Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO) and Adler Planetarium will give a group of Chicago public high school students a chance to operate a telescope flying in a plane at an altitude of 41,000 feet–above 99 percent of Earth’s atmosphere. The 23 students–from several high schools on Chicago’s South Side–are part of a University of Chicago educational outreach program called Space Explorers. The program, “Live From the Stratosphere,” will be broadcast live on PBS stations nationwide and on NASA-Select TV on Thursday, Oct. 12, from 1p.m. to 4:30 p.m. CST, and on Friday, Oct. 13, from 7 p.m. to midnight CST.

The Space Explorers at Adler will be able to remotely control–via the Internet–an infrared telescope mounted in the belly of the KAO as well as interact with University of Chicago astronomers on board the plane. Chicago astronomers Doyal Harper, Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Director of the Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica (CARA), and Robert Loewenstein, Senior Research Associate in Astronomy & Astrophysics will be flying on the KAO.

The students will track the flight of the plane, plot the positions of stars, planets and galaxies, and process images of Jupiter, Saturn and star-forming regions.

Controlling the KAO telescope remotely is an experiment that will set the stage for the next generation of flying observatories, SOFIA–currently being developed by NASA–which are designed from the outset to be controlled remotely by ground-based observers.

The Space Explorers program is the result of a unique partnership between Chicago public schools, the University of Chicago, Adler Planetarium and CARA–a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center managed by the University. The program is designed to give students from Chicago public schools a greater understanding of and appreciation for science.

Participants in the Space Explorers program extend their school day and academic experiences by attending classes after school and on Saturdays at the University. In weekly sessions, they study the stars while learning basic math, science and writing skills, working with faculty and graduate-student volunteers. In addition, they spend 10 days each year at the University’s Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wis., using the observatory’s telescopes and conducting research projects. Experienced students in the Space Explorers program travel to elementary schools during the school year to teach astronomy to younger students using the Adler Planetarium’s portable Starlab.

One of the aspects of the Space Explorers program that is unique, said James Sweitzer, CARA’s assistant director, is that students and their parents have to agree to make a long-term commitment to the program. Some of the students who have graduated from the program have participated throughout their high school careers. “We regard this as a community-building activity,” Sweitzer said. “We work with people in our own backyard, and we work with them over a period of years.

“Kids respond to astronomy more quickly than to any other science,” he added. Program organizers wouldn’t mind seeing the high school students grow up to be astrophysicists, but the program’s main goal is to use the students’ interest in astronomy to develop basic skills. “Our goal is not necessarily to turn out scientists, but to help kids understand and appreciate science, so that when they do go to college they’re better prepared,” Sweitzer said.

In its four years of operation, the Space Explorers program has provided mentoring for more than 60 high school students and conducted outreach programs involving more than 10,000 elementary school students. All graduates of the University of Chicago program–many of whom have participated throughout their high school careers–have continued their education at a variety of four-year, post-secondary institutions.

Larry Hawkins, Director of the Office of Special Programs at the University, said, “The graduation of these students is a clear confirmation of the successful efforts of everyone involved.” Hawkins attributed the success of the program to the vision and hard work of CARA’s partners–Adler Planetarium, the University of Chicago Department of Astronomy, the staff of the Office of Special Programs, the Chicago Public Schools–and parents and students.

The Office of Special Programs is supported by grants from the United States Department of Education Division of Student Services, TRIO Programs and the Illinois State Board of Education, Urban and Ethnic Education Unit. The Space Explorers distance learning program is supported by the Nalco Foundation.

The “Live From the Stratosphere” program is produced by Geoff Haines-Stiles Productions (GHSP) and Maryland Public Television (MPT). The project is made possible with support from the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, PBS K-12 Learning Services and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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