Hart District teachers fly on NASA mission

Tom Gavin, Judy Jennings and Ravinder Athwal study the raw data coming from the infrared telescope on board NASA's SOFIA mission on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. Courtesy photo
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Source: William S. Hart Union High School District

Three more science teachers from the William S. Hart Union High School District in Santa Clarita had the experience of a lifetime when they flew last Monday on a NASA mission.

Ravinder Athwal (Bowman), Tom Gavin (West Ranch) and Judy Jennings (Hart) had to first go through safety and mission training, and endured several flight postponements, before finally getting off the ground out of Palmdale.

The mission was on NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), which is a Boeing 747 that has been converted into a flying observatory.  A 15-ton, infrared telescope was built into the fuselage of the aircraft, with the interior of the plane filled with computers and instrumentation capturing raw data from the cosmos.

The 10-hour flight took the teachers, researchers and technicians out over the Pacific Ocean northwest of San Francisco, south toward Hawaii before returning back to Palmdale.

The telescope first found Neptune to calibrate before studying various stars 100 light years away. Athwal, Gavin and Jennings now join Sarah Arndt (Saugus), Christine Hirst (West Ranch) and Lydia Gonzalez-Jimenez (Canyon) as science teachers from the Hart District who have flown on SOFIA.

Jennings, a physics and engineering teacher at Hart High School, said the experience made an impact on her life as a teacher that will last a lifetime.

“This experience has equipped me with new knowledge about how scientific research is conducted and about the associated career paths that are available to my students,” Jennings said.  “The demonstration of impeccable precision, determination and communication among the members of the SOFIA team has left me in awe.”

The teachers were selected in February 2017, as Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors for NASA offering real experiences with scientists and astronomers on board SOFIA.  NASA then provides curriculum the teachers can bring back into the classroom after the flight to share with their students.

Thirty nine teachers were chosen from across the country, with 12 of those teachers coming from the Hart School District.

Athwal, a science teacher and current Teacher of the Year at Bowman High School, said the experience let him see the intricacies required to conduct this science and the scores of people who must work as a team for a successful conclusion.

“Because of my experience talking to the different people on the SOFIA mission, I am now able to give my students an expectation that they too can aspire to work with NASA in a variety of positions,” Athwal said.

The Hart School District’s remaining teachers will fly on two separate missions next fall.

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