Castleton Flys Up, Up, and Away

Stone Smith, Pawprint Staff Reporter

Recently two of Canyons School District’s teachers, one from Hillcrest High School the other from Corner Canyon High School, have been launched into space. 

According to Mr. Castleton, “[Before the flight, we were] scheduled to take part in 5 remote training sessions with the principal investigator of the SETI Institute’s Airborne Astronomy Ambassador project, Dr. Dana Backman…We also had two pre-flight seminars just prior to flight week.”

These training sessions included astronomy lessons and a one-day live training in Denver, which was needed to go over the materials, equipment, and curriculum. The teachers also had to be checked by a NASA flight surgeon to make sure they were physically able to meet the requirements as a qualified non-crew members.

Castleton said they could bring computers, cameras, and phones. He also mentioned that they could bring personal items. “[I took ] my mother’s Chilean flag, a commemorative coin, and brought a flash drive with the names of those who filled out a form to have their names with me aboard SOFIA.”

The flight was similar to a normal flight; there were chairs, they flew in a plane, and they experienced turbulence, but Mr. Castleton said,  “In most ways, it was completely different. For starters, our chairs were facing the rear of the plane, and it was very noisy. There were only a few seats that were leftover from when it was an airliner. It was pitch black, so there wasn’t much to see other than the lights from Utah and Salt Lake Counties as we flew over and the stars.”

The main point of going up to the stratosphere seems to be the infrared telescope that allowed NASA to look for galaxies’ and nebulae’s magnetic fields. Mr. Castleton states that the teachers weren’t allowed to go to the telescope room because it would expose them to low oxygen levels and frigid temperatures.

Their flight lasted about nine hours and 30 minutes, starting in California, moving over Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, California again, the Pacific, and then back home to California. Castleton tells The PawPrint that throughout the entire experience, the training, flight and mission debrief, he was constantly learning something new.

“It was not remotely scary. I enjoyed every moment. Even the 900 foot drop due to turbulence,” Castleton said, reflecting on the fantastic experience, and he would recommend students to try it out, “Except that they aren’t [teachers]. Unless they become teachers, then qualify to be part of the program.”