Talking Science--Bill Nye the Science Guy Visits SOFIA
Bill Nye the Science Guy paid a visit to NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., on Dec. 10. The facility is home to SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy and Nye was onsite to conduct interviews for an upcoming radio program on the Planetary Society’s website. Accompanying Nye was Mat Kaplan, the society’s media producer.
Nye arrived in a new electric car he was test-driving for General Motors. Typical of a scientist, he was jazzed about the technology behind this vehicle and had to point out all the cool features.
Small crowds of curious bystanders started shadowing Nye and Kaplan, who were escorted by Dryden public affairs lead Kevin Rohrer, as they walked through the hallways and into the hangar. Young and old, technicians, physicists, administrative and professional staff alike, the reaction of those he passed was the same: awe, admiration and sheer excitement at getting to see and meet The Science Guy!
Many of SOFIA’s staff commented to Nye that his whimsical and often humorous approach to science had been instrumental in motivating them to choose their career paths. Now, they had an opportunity to repay the favor by showing Nye a thing or two about what they are doing in support of making great astronomical discoveries with the SOFIA.
The pair was greeted by Bob Meyer, SOFIA program manager, with an overview of how far SOFIA has come in its development and what the future holds for the flying observatory and its infrared astronomy. Nye and Kaplan seemed to spend as much time learning about the modified 747SP aircraft and the 2.5-meter infrared telescope it carries as they did conducting interviews. Nye noted that, as an engineer, before achieving celebrity status he’d actually helped design portions of this type aircraft. “How cool is that?!” he noted.
The pair wore laboratory coats, disposable shoe booties, and shower cap-type hats as they climbed the back portable steps into the aircraft for to a rare visit to the unpressurized area of the 747SP and a view of the 100-inch diameter mirror. Though the mirror is now sporting a protective cover, precautions are made to keep guests from dropping items that might cause damage.
Meyer was interviewed with the telescope at his back in the cabin compartment. SOFIA project scientist Pam Marcum sat at a workstation as she offered a review of the data captured during the three recently completed initial science flights.
As he toured the observatory and conduct interviews, Nye’s mind appeared to be wandering into the unknown…what discoveries would this team make, how would the telescope complement other ground-based instruments…will they let me fly the plane?
The walk-through tour of the aircraft brought out both the engineer and scientist in Nye. His request of the program was to return when educators begin to fly and gather data that will be carried back to their colleagues and students.
Nye’s story about his visit to SOFIA is posted on the society’s website, www.planetary.org
Kevin Rohrer, Beth Hagenauer
NASA Dryden Public Affairs