Penn Manor Teacher Explores “Final Frontier”

By Sarah Schaeffer and Tim Harris –

Imagine NASA: Apollo missions, anti-gravity chambers and bulky spacesuits, the things that make up the fantasies of many children and adults alike. For one Penn Manor teacher, NASA was anything but a fantasy.

For Earth Science and Astronomy teacher, Dave Bender, an interest in the skies began at an early age. It was on his tenth birthday that the first man landed on the moon. Permitted by his parents to stay up and watch the grainy, black and white broadcast, Bender has been fascinated ever since.

Two Desert RATS team members work in the Arizona field. Photo courtesy of Dave Bender

In late August through early September, Bender participated in NASA’s annual Desert Research and Technology Studies (commonly known as the Desert RATS) exploration study. Bender traveled to Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas to be a part of the Science Operations team, a behind the scenes component of the mission.

It all began with a phone call from one of Bender’s former students, Dr. Jacob Bleacher. Bleacher, the youngest person in Penn Manor’s hall of fame, is now a scientist at NASA and had previously completed field studies as a crew member with the Desert RATS team. With NASA being interested in bringing educators into the process, Bleacher asked Bender to participate.

However excited Bender was to accept the offer, it was necessary to get an “O.K.” from someone in a higher position at the school district. To ensure that Bender could miss the first few days of a new school year, Bleacher contacted Dr. Michael Leichliter, Penn Manor’s superintendent.

Leichliter said the decision was easy, as Bender was one of only two teachers invited to participate in the expedition.


“This speaks of both the respect Dr. Bleacher has for Penn Manor as well as the level of esteem he has for Mr. Bender as a teacher,” said Leichliter.

“Dr. Leichliter was like ‘NASA calls? You can go,'” said Bender.

“How could we say no to NASA!” said Leichliter in an e-mail.

For Bender, the purpose of the experience is the opportunity to bring his newly-gained knowledge back to Penn Manor to share with his students. He, along with fellow Earth Science teacher William Yarnell, plan to work on an educational outreach program to bring NASA work into the classroom.

“It was my hope that this program would lead to a connection between the work of NASA and Penn Manor High School.  Penn Manor has achieved some great successes in the past two years in relation to science, our International championship Rocket Team, and the groundbreaking work of Ben Clark.  I am hopeful that this relationship will lead to more opportunities for Penn Manor students,” said Leichliter.

Connect with the Desert RATS team, learn more about analog activities and read blogs from Bender and Bleacher at