Seeing the Big Picture
From earliest times, human beings have pondered their place
in the universe. They have wondered whether they are in some sense connected
with the awesome and immense cosmos in which the Earth is imbedded....
Carl Sagan, The Cosmic Connection
Our voyages are made on a photon's back. Before us lies the cosmic
landscape, and our goal is nothing less than the origin of life, earth,
sun, stars, galaxies, universe.
Michael Rowan-Robinson, Our Universe: an Armchair Guide
I must up in the skies again, for the call
of the Stratosphere,
Is a wild call and a clear call that I
shall always hear;
And all I ask is a jet stream with low
And a bright source with some broad lines
for a grad student's paper
Jim Cockrell, Kuiper Airborne Observatory crew member
Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around
him, and calls the adventure science.
Edwin Hubble (thanks to Roger Stryker and Dan Lester)
Earth's atmosphere is essential to life. This ocean of fluids and
suspended particles surrounds Earth and protects it from the hazards
of outer space. It insulates the inhabitants of Earth from the extreme
temperatures of space and stops all but the largest meteoroids from
reaching the surface. Furthermore, it filters out most radiation dangerous
to life. Without the atmosphere, life would not be possible on Earth.
The atmosphere contains the oxygen we breathe. It also has enough pressure
so that water remains liquid at moderate temperatures.
Yet the same atmosphere that makes life possible hinders our understanding
of Earth's place in the universe. Virtually our only means for investigating
distant stars, nebulae, and galaxies is to collect and analyze the electromagnetic
radiation these objects emit into space. But most of this radiation
is absorbed or distorted by the atmosphere before it can reach a ground-based
telescope. Only visible light, some radio waves, and limited amounts
of infrared and ultraviolet light survive the passage from space to
the ground. That limited amount of radiation has given astronomers enough
information to estimate the general shape and size of the universe and
categorize its basic components, but there is much left to learn. It
is essential to study the entire spectrum rather than just limited regions
Relying on the radiation that reaches Earth's surface is like listening
to a piano recital with only a few of the piano's keys working. Although
many things can be learned about our universe by studying it from the
surface of Earth, the story is incomplete. To view celestial objects
over the whole range of the electromagnetic spectrum it is essential
to climb above the atmosphere into outer space.
NASA Space Based Astronomy
These words introduce the motivation and the methodology for the research
done aboard NASA's Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO). Operating the KAO
requires a dedicated team of researchers, astronomers, computer and telecommunications
experts, pilots and aircrew, electrical engineers, navigators, ground
crew and many more. For 20 years, the KAO has made breakthrough discoveries
concerning planets, comets, stars and galaxies. Now, for the first time,
you and your students have the opportunity to take an electronic field
trip aboard the KAO via interactive video and computer networks.
This Teacher's Guide is designed to offer you a secure place from which
to take off and land. And--in between--to offer you wings to fly your
own course, providing a wide menu of possibilities which you can customize
for your specific circumstances--the subjects you teach, the students
you work with, the technology to which you have access.
The KAO is a noisy environment, but its headsets are designed so those
onboard can communicate clearly. Throughout this Guide, you'll find sidebars
full of the voices of the men and women who articulate the Kuiper spirit:
enthusiastically exploring scientific frontiers, using state-of-the-art
technology to help answer some of the grandest questions to confront humans.