In the fall of 2009 I was starting my fourth year of teaching physics at Ottawa High School. My wife Diana was a library assistant at the local library, and she sent me a message about an event happening at the Topeka Public Library (TSCPL), a presentation by someone billed as “The Street Astronomer”.
The presentation was an interesting tour of the night sky, aimed mainly to a younger audience (but still quite enjoyable as an adult). It turns out that The Street Astronomer is L. Paul Verhage, an astronomy enthusiast, educator, and an education Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas. We chatted briefly after his presentation, and I began following his Twitter feed and blog.
I periodically saw updates on his Twitter feed and blog, but noticed sometime in early 2011 that his updates had been slow for some time. I visited his webpage and found a notice–he was looking for teachers who could organize a team of students to build a balloon satellite as part of his dissertation research. I sent an email immediately inquiring about the project, and once he described it, I said “we’re in!”
The build window was scheduled to begin in the Spring 2012 semester, so at our beginning-of-the-year faculty meeting, I announced the plan to put together a balloon satellite build team to take advantage of this great opportunity.
In the following months, students periodically heard about the project, and several asked how to get involved. After receiving information from Mr. Verhage in December, I made the formal announcement to the students that it was time to sign up. Eighteen interested students showed up at my door over the next few days, and six were chosen to be the official build team.