SAN JOSE (CBS 5) — NASA has picked six teachers from a nationwide search to fly on its latest scientific endeavor. Among those picked, a physics teacher at a San Jose school.

The teachers will fly on a specially redesigned former commercial plane called SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.) The plane flies at 45,000 feet, above most of the water in our Earth’s atmosphere.

Branham High School physics teacher Marita Beard was thrilled to be selected as part of the first round of educators that will be on board. Beard’s previous internship at the NASA Ames Research Center and her huge enthusiasm for the project helped her win a spot.

Beard hopes her trip will inspire more women and minorities to think about teaching and science as possible careers.

“Wouldn’t it be great if I was on that flight when they discovered a new star is going to be born in the next thousand years,” said Beard. “Or, maybe discover that there might be a star with planets orbiting around it that could be like our Earth?”

SOFIA has a 17-ton telescope on board, which analyzes infrared light. NASA scientists and the chosen teachers will be able to study stars, comets and even black holes. The space agency has said the infrared light technology is “optimal for studying low-temperature objects in space such as the raw materials for star and planet formation.”

“It is better than a mountain top observatory, in terms of clarity,” said NASA’s Dr. Dana Backman. “In its ability to observe celestial objects, it is much less expensive and much more convenient than a space telescope.”

Beard’s trip on SOFIA will depart from Palmdale on Friday. The flight will take them to the skies above California and total flight time is expected to be around ten hours.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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