Many teachers suggest that their students shoot for the stars, but only a handful will be able to say they have been as close as a pair of Southampton science teachers preparing for a mission with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration later this month.Ryan Munkwitz and John Walsh are among 26 teachers selected nationwide, and the only two from New York, who will take part in the NASA Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) program, through which they will assist NASA scientists, engineers, and astronomers with research aboard an airborne observatory.
The duo, who have been preparing for the trip for more than a year, will be leaving for California on September 15.
“I first heard about the program during a previous NASA workshop that I had attended and immediately I was all over it,” said Mr. Walsh, who teaches both earth and physical sciences to eighth-graders at Southampton Intermediate School. “I could not wait to be a part of it, and I thought it was so cool that they were not just doing ground research.”
As part of the SOFIA program, the teachers will be flying in a modified Boeing 747 SP jetliner equipped with a 100-inch-diameter telescope, according to a release from Nicholas Veronico, a representative of NASA. The observatory makes it possible to analyze infrared light to study the formation of stars and planets.
As part of the program, Mr. Munkwitz, who teaches earth science at the intermediate school, and Mr. Walsh will spend a week in California, during which each of them will fly twice for 10 hours overnight in the modified jet. When they arrive in California, they will be briefed on recent research performed on the SOFIA, and they will be told exactly what type of research they will be doing. Until then, they do not know any specifics about what will go on during the flight.
This week, Mr. Munkwitz explained that although the plane will not be traveling in outer space, they will be traveling outside of the earth’s stratosphere, in an area he called inner space. At that altitude, the plane will be above moisture retained in the atmosphere, and the telescopes will be able to get a clearer picture of space.
“We are excited to bring the work back to the students, our colleagues and all of the district’s schools,” said Mr. Munkwitz, who is also an astronomy teacher at the high school. “The more information we can share, the better.”
This week, Superintendent Dr. Scott Farina said the district is excited to have two teachers participating in the program, which is being funded completely by NASA and will not cost the district any money.
“I think it was a great honor for those teachers and an exciting opportunity,” Dr. Farina said. “I know they have plans to use what they have learned to come back to further their instructions with the kids, so that is very exciting for them.”