Hillcrest Teacher Castleton is literally flying to space

This is the plane that Castleton will ride

At nearly 10 miles above the earth’s surface, Mr. Castleton and other teachers around the nation will be flying into the Stratosphere in NASA plane SOFIA. 

Castleton is one of 30 teachers in the US chosen to be an Airborne Astronomy Ambassador, only of two chosen from Utah.

Thirty teachers from around the country have been chosen to be Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors. According to Castleton, the beginning of this experience has taken nearly 8 years of communication, work, and effort. 

It all started in 2013 when Castleton went to a summer conference where key speaker Ken Bower-the person in charge of deciding what research goes on aboard SOFIA-introduced the program. From the moment Bower started speaking and listing qualifications, Castleton knew he wanted to take part in this. Castleton then went through the 8-year-long process of applying and waiting to hear back. He was notified on February 4, 2021, that he was chosen to fly aboard SOFIA.

Castleton said the purpose of this trip is, “to bring educators from middle high school and community schools into a research environment aboard…so they can then bring back curriculum, equipment, knowledge, and information to classrooms to increase awareness of this type of research-infrared astronomy.”

Castleton doesn’t know what exact research will be conducted aboard SOFIA but does know it will be dealing with Infra-red light. 

He said that this program will be used mainly to teach us about the technologies and tools available for infra-red light research, as well as learn about the methods astronomers use so they can use infra-red observations. The SETI Institute and program managers hope to utilize this research by incorporating it into new school curriculums. 

The stratosphere is the second layer of the earth’s 5 atmospheric layers. This high up, passengers aboard SOFIA will be able to see the curvature of the earth. Castleton is excited for the opportunity to fly with NASA and see the curve. He said very few people are ever able to be far enough away from the earth to see it rotate.

SOFIA is a modified 747 plane and stands for Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy. Attached to the back of the plane is a 100-inch telescope and is designed to look at infrared frequencies.

Not only is Castleton eager to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but he is also excited to be able to be part of something so much bigger than himself. 

“I look up and see a connection to a being, something up there…almost every civilization spent time looking up at the stars for one purpose or another. Getting up that close- call it a romantic in me. Being that close to a goal…” said Castleton.

Castleton is also excited to go on this trip because he believes he will be able to impact future students. This trip will show that NASA isn’t just in the big states, but it’s also in Utah. He hopes that by going on this trip, his students will be able to dream bigger and find a passion for this type of thing.