Rafe Day (left) of UC-Irvine's atmospheric sciences group and Carnegie Mellon University graduate student Daniel Tkacik flew aboard NASA's DC-8 airborne lab to observe air-quality sampling during the NASA-sponsored Student Aircraft Research Program. (University of North Dakota photo) Rafe Day wasn't the typical Earth scientist flying on NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory this summer. Day is an employee in Don Blake's atmospheric science group at the University of California in Irvine. He also has Down syndrome.
Blake is a mentor for the NASA-sponsored Student Airborne Research Program that took place in July and August. Blake guided the international group of university students through the installation, operation, and sample analysis and data reduction for the Whole Air Sampler that was part of the sensor suite for the student airborne science research experience. Blake has years of involvement with NASA and the agency's Earth Science studies.
In late July, Day joined Blake and the university students to observe air-quality sampling during a low-altitude flight of the NASA airborne laboratory from its base at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.
When Day left the Orange County, Calif., Student Training Empowerment Program in 2002, he had difficulty finding employment. In addition to Down syndrome, he was born without one foot and wears a prosthetic leg. Blake hired Day as a lab assistant and he has worked at the university for seven years, completing tasks such as cleaning instrument parts.
"In addition to receiving a better understanding of atmospheric chemistry, my students leave here with a better understanding of what people with Down syndrome can do," said Blake. "There are some things that Rafe does better than I."
"I am now a Down-syndrome astronaut," said Day of his experience on the NASA science flight.
The Student Airborne Research Program is managed through the National Suborbital Education and Research Center at the University of North Dakota, with funding and support from NASA's Airborne Science program. The NSERC was established through a cooperative agreement between the University of North Dakota and NASA.