Meet Some of the Team
Doyal A. (Al) Harper
P.I. (Principal Investigator) for the Live From the Stratosphere flights
"Since my days as a graduate student at Rice University (in Houston), I have been doing research in experimental astrophysics, specializing in observations at far infrared wavelengths. I did my first research with a 12-inch diameter telescope mounted in a NASA Lear Jet aircraft. (The original Lear Jet telescope is now on the first floor of the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum.) I have been an active user of the KAO since 1974
I started reading about space travel in popular magazines and science fiction books I checked out of the public library in Atlanta, where I grew up. One of the first was Between Planets, by Robert A. Heinlein. It was a really interesting mixture of adventure, interplanetary intrigue, space travel, physics and astronomy. One of the principal characters was a Venusian dragon named Sir Isaac Newton. My interest in astronomy also got a big boost from my third grade teacher, who introduced me to her son, who was an amateur astronomer. I built my first telescope with a mirror which he gave me.
I also had some very good teachers in high school who showed me how much fun science could be. One of the highlights of my high school physics course was measuring the mass of the electron using an electromagnet, balsa wood, and a tuning-eye tube from an FM radio. As much as I enjoy science, I had a tough time choosing between physics and English literature in college. There are so many interesting things to learn and think about!
I am a Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago. I enjoy reading, writing, photography, playing the banjo and guitar, cross-country skiing, bicycling, and running (when my knees will let me!)"
astronomy educator, Atlanta
April Whitt has taught in high schools in New York State, worked on education and outreach at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, and was selected by the National Science Foundation to travel to the South Pole in 1993-1994. She's on staff at Fernbank, the only science center in America operated by a school district. In 1995 she became a FOSTER teacher, taking a 2-week workshop at NASA Ames on the KAO and infrared astronomy. She will serve as LFS's "Educator in the Stratosphere" for the live observing missions.
"I've always wanted to be able to fly. I was born in Alaska, and when I was a day old I was on the mail plane, coming back to the village where my parents were working. I think it might have gotten started there. Just simply loving to travel distances fast. Speed. Pure fast... I went hang-gliding just once...it was wonderful, I wish I could do it again.
Astronomy brings all the different sciences together. And it's beautiful: when you look up at the sky, it's just plain pretty. When you look at computer screens with wonderful images on them or when you look at the new data that's coming in, it's aesthetically pleasing, as well as new information coming in that you get to put together. I think of it as a puzzle, science as the ultimate detective story, trying to figure out where something came from, how it got that way, or what's going to happen next...If you look at the people, I think that's the exciting stuff. When you add tools on, and astronomers and scientists that know how to use those tools, then you become able to see further, you can see differently, and every time something new opens up, there's a whole bunch of new questions that come up from it.
Being able to find out something that NASA's doing and to bring that back to DeKalb County was a big plus with me. What I need to do is to learn as much as I can about as much different science as I can and then make that accessible to the students and teachers who live here...I want to be able to say to kids that come here, if you want to badly enough--you can do anything you want in science or just about anything else, and here's some information to get you started."
Airborne Telescope Operator
"I `m responsible for operating the telescope in flight and monitoring all the various systems that make it work. On the ground I do maintenance of the telescope and its various systems such as high pressure air compressors, cryogenics, power amplifiers, etc.
...I spent 13 years as a television news technician and cameraman. I'm a commercial airplane and helicopter pilot and always kept my eye open for interesting aviation-related stories the station could do. While working at KTVU I learned of the KAO and managed to get a ride on it while doing a news story about it. After covering drive-by shootings, hostage situations, and every other type of bad news for 13 years I finally burned out on TV news, and 7 years later here I am. My personal motivation was to get involved in a project that I thought had some socially redeeming value and offered an opportunity to fly and travel ...This project can point to some important discoveries. They will be there long after the players are gone.
I'm a heavy rescue specialist and an Emergency Medical Technician...Hobbies
include computers and radio-controlled model helicopters. I'm an active
radio amateur...I have worked as an aircraft mechanic for United and as
a radio broadcast engineer prior to moving into television. I built the
country's first Spanish/English educational FM radio station...."