April 30, 2003
About 35 volunteers in NASA's Solar System Ambassadors Program are planning an assortment of public activities across the country for Space Day, being observed this year on May 1. The events run through May 17.
Established in 1997, Space Day celebrates the advancement of science, technology, engineering and math by inspiring young people to realize the vision of our space pioneers. The 2003 Space Day theme, "Celebrating the Future of Flight," commemorates advancements in aviation and aerospace spanning 100 years.
"Space Day is a vehicle to be used to educate the scientists, engineers and astronauts of the future. There is a good chance that the first person to step foot on Mars will have celebrated this year's event," said Timothy Robertson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. He will discuss Stardust, a mission to return samples of a comet to Earth, with students at Mesa Union Elementary School in Somis, Calif. He will show students the "dirty snowball" model of a comet nucleus by making "comets" from dry ice, dirt and other materials. In addition, students will see a real piece of aerogel, the world's lightest solid, used on the Stardust mission to collect dust from comets and space.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory coordinates the Solar System Ambassadors Program, consisting of more than 270 volunteer ambassadors who have committed to organizing and carrying out at least four public outreach activities a year. JPL provides them with educational materials and training sessions, including contacts with mission scientists.
"I think it's important to get elementary students excited about space and astronomy because it's more challenging to grab students' interest when they reach high school," said ambassador Bonnie Walters. She invited Robertson and 14 other speakers from JPL, Johnson Space Center and several space-related organizations to speak to Mesa Union students on May 9. The volunteers will discuss various NASA missions and astrobiology, among other topics, and offer demonstrations on what telescopes do and what the universe looks like through three-dimensional eyeglasses.
Ambassador Jim Zebrowski will present a slideshow about the solar system, focused on the Sun and planets, to students at Joseph L. Mulready Elementary School in Hudson, Mass. With help from the Aldrich Astronomical Society of Worcester, Mass., Zebrowski will also show students meteorites, small telescopes and binoculars, and offer free handouts on beginning astronomy provided by Sky and Telescope magazine.
Ambassadors Susan Batson and Ginny Mauldin-Kinney will showcase presentations on the Mars Exploration Rovers May 2 at North Hills High School Planetarium, Pittsburgh, Pa., and May 5 at Brockett Elementary School, Tucker, Ga., respectively.
JPL ambassadors are based throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, serving widespread public interest about robotic missions throughout the solar system. Each year, the program is among more than 75 Space Day partner organizations sponsoring local events across North America.
More information about the Solar System Ambassadors Program is available at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador.
For more information about Space Day, including a comprehensive list of scheduled events, see http://spaceday.com/.
JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology.
JPL/Charli Schuler (818) 393-5467