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May 14. 2014 11:09PM

Former NH woman to get a unique look at space


Lizzie Rosenberger ...now teaches in New York 


NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) flies aboard a converted Boeing 747 SP at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet. (NASA)

A New Hampshire native will soon spend 20 hours about as close to outer space as you can get without going weightless.

Tonight and Friday night, former Concord resident Lizzie Rosenberger will take flight on SOFIA, a modified Boeing 747SP that is part of NASA’s research fleet and the only flying astronomical observatory in the world.

Each flight could reach an altitude of 45,000 feet, about 10,000 feet higher than a typical commercial flight, and each will last approximately 10 hours.

“I’m very excited,” said Rosenberger, 29, who moved to Concord when she was 6 and grew up there. “I’m glad it’s finally here.”

SOFIA, which stands for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a plane fitted with a 2.7-meter infrared telescope that will allow scientists to get a unique look at the universe. Rosenberger, who teaches science at Avenues: The World School in New York City, was chosen from a group of educators who applied to take the flight.

She is taking part in what is called the Amateur Astronomy Ambassadors Program. So far, 54 teachers have been selected representing 22 states. She will be part of a two-person team on the flight.

When reached by phone in California on Monday, Rosenberger said her training was to start Tuesday with a meeting with several scientists and engineers.

Rosenberger and her teammate won’t get to operate the equipment. They are there to observe the scientists and help with analysis, she said. They will be riding with a group of 13 German scientists.

Both flights will take off at 7:30 p.m. (PST) and land about 5:30 a.m. The flights are taken at night for better visibility, which is also why they go to an altitude of 39,000 to 45,000 feet.

At that height, the observatory gets above more than 99 percent of the atmospheric water vapor and other infrared-absorbing gases, opening windows to the universe not available from the ground.

The fact Rosenberger is going on these flights isn’t surprising to her father, Eric Rosenberger. He said his daughter has traveled all over the world and is very familiar with flying on 747s. The only difference is this one will go about 10,000 feet higher.

“I think it’s consistent (with her personality),” Eric Rosenberger said. “She’s adventurous and she loves to travel.”

Eric and his wife, Teresa, still live in Concord. They plan to see their daughter at a christening this Sunday on Long Island, where they will get the scoop about what it’s like to be part of a NASA program.

The flight shouldn’t feel different from a typical commercial flight, but for precautionary reasons, Rosenberger and her partner will be required to wear an oxygen mask and pack.

The application process started in April 2013, when Rosenberger learned about the program at a convention. She and her partner, fellow Avenues: The World School teacher Mike Maccarone, were required to write essays and outreach plans. They were selected by a group of their peers.

Ever since she was a kid, Rosenberger was fascinated by the sky.

“I would lay out there and look at the stars on my lawn,” she said. “I’d get eaten alive by mosquitoes, and I’d love it.”

This time she won’t need any bug spray.

Follow her on Twitter at @avenuesscience, on Instagram at scienceavenues and on her blog at sofia.avenues.org.

mquirk@unionleader.com


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