Ashes Scattered in the Stratosphere

Jan. 14, 2018: In August 2016, geologist Lee Allison, the director of the Arizona Geological Survey, passed away. On Dec. 31, 2017, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus flew his ashes to the stratosphere using a robotic ash scatterer. The space weather balloon flight, which also gathered data on atmospheric radiation, was sponsored by Lee’s wife Ann Becker to honor Lee and mark the sky-high impact he had on colleagues, students, friends and family.

“Lee was always interested in space,” says Ann, “and like a lot of us who grew up with the space program, he always wanted to go into space. Funding a balloon flight and spreading his ashes in the stratosphere are definitely things he would have appreciated.

“I grew up in central Wyoming. Our 9th grade earth science teachers conducted field science programs (geology and botany mostly) in the summer. I think science programs outside the normal school day can change a young person’s trajectory. They certainly changed mine. Ultimately I studied geophysics and earned a PhD in seismology.

“I remember something my high school senior year AP calculus teacher said (1969, right after the Apollo 11 mission): that the boys in the class were the astronauts of the future, and the girls would be their wives and support them. I’m pleased that times have changed, pleased that there are programs like Earth to Sky Calculus that make it easier for young women to not bury their intelligence or interests because society says they’re supposed to.

“Lee always supported women in geology,” concludes Ann. “He was one of the founding members of the Salt Lake chapter of the Assn for Women Geoscientists. A STEM program like Earth to Sky Calculus is one he would support.”