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Program 2: The Pre-Flight Briefing

LIVE: October 5, 1995, 12:00-13:00 Eastern

A live program, originating from the hangar at NASA Ames, the KAO's home base. Students meet the astronomers, teacher, students, aircrew and ground staff who will be part of the upcoming observing missions. Teacher April Whitt (from Fernbank Science Center) takes us on a tour of the aircraft, inside and out. Students see how the telescope is mounted, and how it operates, looking out of its port on the left side of the fuselage, just in front of the wing. Allan Meyer, flight planner and astronomer, describes where the KAO will fly to make its observations, and how students can plot its path. Live interaction from around the country by phone, fax and e-mail, anchored from Maryland Public Television's Classroom of the Future and a high school in Hawaii.

Student Learning Objectives

These activities introduce students to the Kuiper Airborne Observatory as both a airplane and a telescope, and to the goals of the upcoming observing flights.

After completing these activities, students will be able to

  • describe the KAO and explain why astronomers use it to study the heavens
  • make either a scale model or a full-size mock-up of the KAO, showing the location of the telescope and other work areas to be seen during the electronic field trip
  • understand who flies aboard the KAO and their responsibilities as members of a research team
  • explain how the KAO telescope works and make a simple model showing how it is mounted, demonstrating some of the principles by which it keeps on target during flight

Summary These activities prepare students for for their "electronic field trip" aboard the KAO. An observatory is foreign territory to most people and an airborne observatory still more so. One astronomer even described it as like being in "Das Boot in the sky," after the German submarine movie! activity 2A provides some basic information about the plane and its unique capabilities. Activities 2B and 2C suggest making a full-scale mock-up of the interior of the KAO in your classroom (or other convenient location!) and/or a small model of the telescope itself, demonstrating some of the simpler aspects of how it stays on target.

Excerpts from The KAO Safety Briefing Video

This KAO safety briefing must be viewed by regular flyers of the KAO once a year...There are certain conditions in the cabin which should be prepared for. First, the noise in the cabin averages about 80 decibels. This is high enough to damage hearing if endured for a long period of time. Therefore, it is suggested that you wear your headset at all times while in flight. It might even be a good idea to take an additional precaution by wearing earplugs under your headset.

Second, the cabin during flight can get very dry. In order to avoid dehydration, it is a good idea to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after the flight. Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided. Hot and cold water and coffee are available at the small onboard galleys. There are no in-flight meals, therefore it is suggested that you bring your own food.

Third, it can become quite cold in the cabin, so dress warmly. Natural fibers work best, like cotton and wool. They (unlike polyester) do not melt when in contact with a strong heat source. For safety reasons, no shorts or sandals are allowed to be worn on the KAO...There is NO smoking allowed in the KAO, or its hangar at any time.

One day before flight there will be a briefing for all of those who will be onboard the KAO, given by the Mission Director. Safety and weather will be discussed. After the briefing, everyone will be taken to the KAO to set up and test oxygen masks and other flight equipment. Everyone on the flight is responsible for his or her own oxygen mask and communications equipment testing.

Flight Log of Kuiper Airborne Observatory

Juan Rivera, Airborne Telescope Operator

9:05 PM

I have all my systems up and running now and I am ready to open the telescope aperture door when we get to about 35,000 feet. This door is one of the many unique features of this aircraft. Most planes don't fly along at Mach .74 with a huge door open in the side of the plane! A great deal of time and money has been spent in getting the air to flow smoothly over this opening which is about 6-feet square. Since the telescope has to look through this flow of air blasting across the door, it's essential that it be nice and smooth. Otherwise the image would be distorted by the turbulence. Have you ever noticed heat waves coming off the surface of a hot road? It causes everything to shimmer because the air is unstable. It's the same thing here, only the air is moving hundreds of times faster!

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