TWIN FALLS • In the coming year, Twin Falls High School science teacher Jo Dodds will have an opportunity most other teachers can only dream about.
She’ll work alongside professional astronomers as part of NASA’s Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program.
Part of the program includes organizing public outreach activities. One of those efforts started nearly a year ago when Dodds put a request to have a NASA astronaut come to Twin Falls.
And that dream has become a reality.
Astronaut Stephen Bowen is giving a special presentation Thursday night at Twin Falls High School’s Roper Auditorium.
Dodds said she’s excited about Bowen’s visit next week.
“I think we’re all going to benefit by his experiences when he comes,” she said.
Bowen, a mission specialist, completed three spaceflights and spent about 40 days in space.
Dodds said community donors are covering the costs of the presentation.
It’s free to community members to attend, which is normal for NASA-sponsored activities.
While Bowen is in the Magic Valley, he’ll also four Twin Falls schools — Vera C. O’Leary Middle School, Oregon Trail Elementary, Twin Falls High and Canyon Ridge High — to give presentations to students.
Schools are trying to ramp up science, technology, math and engineering education. Dodds said NASA incorporates all of those areas.
Regardless of whether students decide to pursue a career in a STEM field, Dodds said it’s always good to know more.
She said she’s looking forward to hearing Bowen’s stories about spacewalks and has a lot of questions for him.
Doing Research for NASA
Dodds will soon get a chance of a lifetime: to do research with NASA astronauts.
Last year, she was one of 26 teachers selected to participate in research flights aboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.
SOFIA is a modified Boeing 747 that can reach an altitude of 45,000 feet.
The plane is equipped with a telescope 100 inches in diameter that is used for infrared observations.
The aircraft can go anywhere in the world.
Dodds hasn’t been assigned on her first SOFIA trip yet, but anticipates it will be either in the spring or summer. It could just be a one-night trip or maybe longer.
Coral Clark, NASA’s education programs co-manager for SOFIA, said educators will likely go on the first research flight in summer 2013.
The timeline was pushed back significantly, she said. That’s because work is wrapping up on the ground segment of the observatory.
Clark said officials are looking at a specific flight date, which should be announced in a few weeks.
She said SOFIA is a new mission that’s just getting started. It’s scheduled to be flying for 20 years.
There was “very large competition” for the 26 research slots for educators, Clark said.
Two-person educator teams will be paired with astronomers for the research flights. Dodds is working with fellow science teacher Ralph Peterson, who teaches at North Gem High School in Bancroft.
She said she doesn’t know which astronomers they’ll be working with.
“I’m going to be thrilled no matter who I go up with,” she said.
Bringing the Knowledge Back Home
As part of the program, Dodds and Peterson will share what they learned throughout the state.
They plan to put on educational programs at the Discovery Center of Idaho in Boise and the College of Southern Idaho’s Herrett Center for Arts and Science.
Dodds said they will rewrite some astronomy-related curriculum for the Idaho Digital Learning Academy.
As for her classes at Twin Falls High, Dodds said she’ll share her infrared astronomy research experiences with students and include more of that information in the curriculum.
“I definitely want to incorporate more,” she said.