Michael A. K. Gross works as a software and systems engineer for SOFIA, a 2.5 meter infrared telescope mounted in an open cavity in the aft section of a 747SP airliner. Infrared astronomy involves looking at astronomical objects of “moderate” temperature – cooler than optical stars. Among other things, this allows us to study clouds of dust that may someday become stars, planetary atmospheres, stars too small or too cool to emit optically, and various chemical processes. He figures out algorithms to point the telescope at specific yet arbitrarily chosen locations on the sky, detect and remove backgrounds, and detect and compensate for imperfection and small misalignments in the telescope. These algorithms must also support various calibration and background schemes needed by the multiple cameras that can be bolted to the back of the telescope. He is also the product lead for a very detailed telescope software simulation used to implement and test the pointing and data acquisition algorithms.
Dr. Gross studied mathematics and physics at the University of California, Berkeley and physics, astrophysics and cosmology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He also studied supercomputer simulations of various physical processes, including galaxy formation, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
He has played the trombone for more than 30 years. He has performed with early and modern music groups in Santa Cruz, several South Bay jazz groups including the Ames Jazz Band and Combo, in the pit with several community and civic theaters in the South Bay, Peninsula, and Santa Cruz, and, once, on stage with Shady Shakespeare. This will be his first opera in space.
He currently lives in Ben Lomond with his wife and 7-year old son.