• Glen Fountain, project manager for NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission, describes the process to get to Pluto during a teacher training workshop at the Cosmosphere on Thursday.

  • Glen Fountain, project manager for NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission, describes the process to get to Pluto during a teacher training workshop Thursday at the Cosmosphere.

  • Glen Fountain, project manager for NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission, describes the process to get to Pluto during a teacher training workshop Thursday at the Cosmosphere.

  • Glen Fountain, project manager for NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission, describes the process to get to Pluto during a teacher training workshop Thursday at the Cosmosphere.

  • Cosmosphere Scout Programs Manager Brad Nuest, seen Thursday, demonstrates a computer program that allows teachers to show their students the constellations of stars in the sky. Teachers from all over Kansas were trying out new activities to do with their kids and learning about NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission during the teacher training workshop at the Cosmosphere.

  • Kris Styles of Lincoln Elementary School in Hutchinson, left, Megan Tronsgard of Caldwell Elementary School in Wichita and Michelle Kadolph of Price-Harris Communications Magnet Elementary School in Wichita, learn how to build a lunar lander to keep their marshmallow astronauts safe during the drop off the balcony at the Cosmosphere. Teachers from all over Kansas are trying out new activities to do with their kids and learning about NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission during the teacher training workshop, Thursday, Sept 22, 2016.

  • Chris Gebhardt, CleoAnne Hundley and Sheryl Loveland of Coleman Middle School, discuss how to improve their lunar lander to better protect their marshmallow astronauts during the fall from the balcony at the Cosmosphere. Teachers from all over Kansas are trying out new activities to do with their kids and learning about NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission during the teacher training workshop, Thursday, Sept 22, 2016.

  • Brian Johnson of Maize School District and Alexis Schirmer of Vermillion Elementary School in Maize work together to build a lunar lander to keep their marshmallow astronauts safe during a drop off the balcony at the Cosmosphere. Teachers from all over Kansas are trying out new activities to do with their kids and learning about NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission during the teacher training workshop, Thursday, Sept 22, 2016.

  • Brian Johnson of Maize School District tests his lunar lander by dropping it at waist height to see if it will keep his marshmallow astronauts safe during the final drop off the balcony at the Cosmosphere. Teachers from all over Kansas are trying out new activities to do with their kids and learning about NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission during the teacher training workshop, Thursday, Sept 22, 2016.

  • Kris Styles of Lincoln Elementary School in Hutchinson, left, Megan Tronsgard of Caldwell Elementary School in Wichita and Michelle Kadolph of Price-Harris Communications Magnet Elementary School in Wichita, learn how to build a lunar lander to keep their marshmallow astronauts safe during the drop off the balcony at the Cosmosphere. Teachers from all over Kansas are trying out new activities to do with their kids and learning about NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission during the teacher training workshop, Thursday, Sept 22, 2016.

  • CleoAnne Hundley of Coleman Middle School in Wichita works to improve her lunar lander to better protect her marshmallow astronauts during the fall from the balcony at the Cosmosphere. Teachers from all over Kansas are trying out new activities to do with their kids and learning about NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission during the teacher training workshop, Thursday, Sept 22, 2016.

  • CleoAnne Hundley of Coleman Middle School in Wichita prepares to test her lunar lander by dropping it at waist height to see if it will keep her marshmallow astronauts safe during the final drop off the balcony at the Cosmosphere. Teachers from all over Kansas are trying out new activities to do with their kids and learning about NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission during the teacher training workshop, Thursday, Sept 22, 2016.

  • Megan Tronsgard of Caldwell Elementary School in Wichita drops her lunar lander off the balcony at the Cosmosphere to see if her marshmallow astronauts will survive landing. Teachers from all over Kansas are trying out new activities to do with their kids and learning about NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission during the teacher training workshop, Thursday, Sept 22, 2016.

Area teachers gain insights from New Horizons project manager during Cosmosphere session

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pluto has a blue atmosphere. And the dwarf planet's moon Charon has a red polar cap that scientists think was caused by escaped gases from Pluto.

Both discoveries surfaced after NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto in July 2015.

Glen Fountain, who grew up in Arlington, was New Horizons' project manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Several thousand people and over 50 organizations participated in making New Horizons possible, he said.

On Thursday at the Cosmosphere, 1100 N. Plum St., Fountain described the challenges of designing the spacecraft, launching the rocket carrying New Horizons in January 2006 – the fastest thing ever launched – and planning for the craft's close-up with Pluto nine and a half years later.

"It's a little mind-blowing. It's also very inspiring," said Alexis Schirmer, who teaches fourth-graders at Vermillion Elementary School, Maize, of hearing Fountain's story.

Fountain, in turn, was impressed with his audience of teachers.

"Very good questions," he said. "They're really into it."

Approximately 20 teachers, from third grade and up, participated Thursday in a NASA grant-financed New Horizons Teacher Training program at the Cosmosphere.

Among the things they wanted to know:

What was the temperature on Pluto? About -380 to -390 degrees Fahrenheit. "A little cold," Fountain said.

Is somebody always watching New Horizons? When the spacecraft is in "hibernation mode," they can have a much smaller office, Fountain said. Communication with New Horizons will be possible until 2032.

Julie Hays teaches science at Lyons Middle School, Lyons, and when the school district superintendent sent out news of the training program, it was "Yes!" for Hays. "The Cosmosphere always puts on a good program," she said.

As part of the program, each teacher received a notebook filled with information geared for the student level they teach and containing ideas for future lessons in the classroom.

Teaching today does not mean delivering a lecture, teachers said.

It requires a hands-on approach, said Michelle Kadolph, from Price-Harris Magnet School in Wichita.

It's important for students "to get their hands dirty and do it," said Kris Styes, who teaches fourth-graders at Lincoln Elementary School in Hutchinson.

The Cosmosphere is NASA's only Educator Resource Center in Kansas, and Tracey Tomme, its vice president of education, said the Cosmosphere matched the grant.

Teachers paid for their lunch, but the program provided a stipend and covered the cost of the substitute teacher.

Tomme said Fountain's travel was paid for, but he donated his time. Fountain lives in Maryland – with a house in Arlington, too – and works part time at the Johns Hopkins lab.