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The Pre-Flight Briefing

Note: the 2 teacher pages follow back-to-back to allow a double page student flight plan

Activity 2E: Planning the Jupiter Mission


videomath symbolsocial studies

To map the planned KAO daytime observing flight

Ask students to look at their KAO models, or photographs of the plane in flight. Discuss how the KAO must be positioned to observe an object in the sky. Out of which side of the plane does the telescope look? Is the telescope limited in how much it can be moved? On-line they'll find still more information.

Explain that the KAO is scheduled to view Jupiter during the late afternoon of October 12, starting around 15:18 hours Eastern. The KAO will have left NASA's Ames Research Center in California earlier that day and must land in Houston, Texas to re-fuel and spend the night.


  • copies of activity page 2E, page 42 bound or stapled into the Mission Logbook. (See "How to Use this Guide," page 10)
  • atlas or map of the United States showing longitude and latitude

Procedure Distribute the activity sheets and review the first paragraph with students. Look at the data in the table from an initial flight plan. Students must first convert Universal Time to local time. Students can then plot the KAO's flight plan on the map. The path actually flown will certainly differ, because of weather and other factors. The live video programs will report new coordinates and students can map the actual course, just as the Mission Director's computer will do in flight.

Students must first find each position or "waypoint" (see Mission Glossary) using an atlas with longitude and latitude information. State lines can be a reference. Students then connect the waypoints to see where the KAO will fly. This two-step process asks them to work with both coordinates and geographical locations.

Discuss why the KAO has to spend time to get to where it can begin to observe Jupiter. This may trigger questions to be asked on-line or on-camera. Explain that the KAO must observe Jupiter late in the afternoon, after a satellite blackout that will make PBS broadcasts impossible between 14:00 and 14:30 hours, and then land in Houston to refuel. Jupiter is in the southern sky. Ask students why the plane flew past Houston and then came back. To answer this question, they must realize that the KAO can only observe from the left side of the plane. So if the KAO is observing an object in the south, in which direction must it be flying? (to the west)

Interdisciplinary Connection

Because the KAO must fly a precise route while observing, and still comply with Federal aviation safety regulations, it tries to avoid areas with lots of commercial airline traffic. How is the KAO avoiding such areas while observing Jupiter?

KAO Connection

Discuss which direction the KAO must fly to observe an object in the southern, western, eastern, and northern skies. Ask students to predict what the flight path might look like when the KAO takes off the next day from Houston, observes five night time objects on October 13 and then lands in California.

Setting Up the Mission Logbook

Note to the Teacher:

The basic astronomy and science, along with knowledge of how the KAO is configured and operated, should come together for your students during the actual LFS observing flights. Whether you participate during the day or night flights, or later on tape, your students should recognize the discoveries and connections they've made in class applied in the real world of cutting-edge research.

Activity pages 2E and 2F, together with the 3A, B, C and 4A, B, C, D, E form a 10-page "Mission Logbook" which your students can personalize: it's their research log, a place to record when the KAO took off and landed, its positions en route, and most importantly, its observations of Jupiter, Saturn, stars and galaxies. We hope you'll copy these pages.

Most pages also have Student Challenges: the astronomical data that will allow students to respond to these questions will be acquired, live and in real-time, during the flights, and explained by the astronomers, teacher and student on board the KAO. Your students will literally be looking over the shoulders of the research team. They'll experience "taking data" in a way very analogous to that of the astronomers themselves.

Activity 2F: Planning the Night Flight to the Stars


To map the KAO night flight

Show students a map of the United States. Remind that the the KAO will take off from Houston, Texas on October 13 and land at its home base; Ames Research Center, between San Francisco and San Jose in California. Ask them to draw the shortest distance home for the KAO. Then ask how they think the direct path will have to change as the KAO observes different objects.

Explain that students should plot the KAO's evening flight path so that the plane can observe five objects: M17, W51, M57, Saturn and M33. Explain that they will be learning more about these objects later. The first step is to design a flight plan so the KAO can see them.


  • copy of activity 2F, page 43 bound or stapled into the Mission Logbook
  • ruler
  • atlas or wall map of the United States showing latitude and longitude

Procedure Distribute the activity sheets. Have students convert Universal into local time. Plot the locations where the KAO will begin or conclude observations of each celestial object on an atlas, and transfer them to the map on the activity page (just as in 2E). Mark the times when the KAO plans to pass through the waypoints and connect the points. Also have them note which object the KAO will be viewing during each leg of the flight. Students will see that the KAO's flight planning software generates very similar depictions of the flight path.

Remind students which direction the telescope has to point relative to the path of the airplane (always out the left side). Ask students to put an arrow on each leg of the path showing the direction in which the telescope is facing. During the M57 leg, for example, the telescope is looking due west, while it's looking due east as the KAO observes M33. It may also help to put arrows on the path showing the direction that the KAO is flying. Students should notice that objects observed in the east rise during the observing flight and objects in the west set.

KAO Connection

This is how most KAO flights are organized. Astronomers and flight planners work together to plan the most logical and efficient path, trying to get every possible minute of productive research for as little expenditure of time and fuel as possible. Objects are chosen so that they can be observed in order. On leaving Houston, you couldn't begin by observing an object in the east if you needed to fly north to turn and see an object in the west on the next leg. As seen in the star chart (from activity 1G and 1H), KAO astronomers must also be aware of the times when different objects are visible. While the plane flies the earth is turning so objects continually rise in the east and set in the west.

Interdisciplinary Connection social studies

An airborne observatory can fly to any location on Earth to make its observations. The next solar eclipse is on October 24, 1995. The best viewing is at longitude 113(deg)11'E. and 8(deg)24'N. Plot this position on a world map and find out where the KAO would have to be deployed to see this solar eclipse.

Getting Ready

by Juan Rivera, Telescope Operator

Tonight I head for Hawaii at 23:15 (11:15 pm)...Since I will be flying off for the better part of the month, this afternoon, I'm paying bills, packing clothes, and getting organized. When I arrive at work I'll load my suitcase on board and then stow my lunch and lots of fluids to drink. At the altitude we fly at (41,000 and sometimes 45,000 feet) there is very little humidity and it is easy to get dehydrated. I try to drink at least 2 quarts of water and fruit juice on each flight...

At 22:15 (10:15 PM) we will all gather for a pre-flight briefing in which we will go over the research mission objectives, and problems that might occur, safety procedures for ditching over-water, fires on board, and so forth. Once the briefing is over I'll grab my oxygen mask and flight plan and head for the aircraft. Once on board, I will be working down a check list making sure all my equipment is set up and operating properly. I'll then check every single fire extinguisher and oxygen bottle on the plane. I do this every flight to re-acquaint myself with their locations. One night my life may depend on knowing how to find that equipment in the dark or when I am injured and not thinking too well. I take flight safety very seriously...

Note: the KAO is normally based at NASA Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA (near San Francisco).


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