Montage of our solar system
Montage of our solar system. Image credit: NASA/JPL
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From teachers to graduate students and homemakers to veterinarians, hundreds of space aficionados have been selected to share their love of space exploration with the public.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., has chosen the first group of Solar System Ambassadors for the new millennium, 203 volunteers representing 48 states.

"The program is a great way to reach people in areas that JPL just doesn't normally get to," said JPL's Kay Ferrari, program coordinator. "The ambassadors are wonderfully enthusiastic people and an important interface between the space exploration community and the public."

Last year alone, 145 Solar System Ambassadors, representing 45 states, personally shared space information with more than 500,000 people.

Once selected, ambassadors receive orientation training and lessons on various space missions, such as Galileo, currently orbiting Jupiter, Cassini, sent to observe Saturn, and Stardust, which will return with interstellar dust and material from a comet tail in 2006. The volunteers also participate in monthly Internet chats and teleconferences with JPL scientists and engineers on the projects.

"I can still remember the fourth grade teacher who got me interested in astronomy. Now I can't get away from it," said Randall Rubis, 46, an amateur astronomer and astronomy club member from Saint Clair Shores, Mich. "There are so many people today who never look up to see how beautiful our universe is. I want to bring that to light."

Equipped with new knowledge and "care packages" filled with color slides, brochures, posters, videos, bookmarks and stickers, ambassadors commit to arranging at least four public outreach efforts throughout the year. Projects range from museum and library lectures to theater and musical productions and planetarium shows.

"I think this is a great way to spread knowledge and enthusiasm about space," said Christine Davis, parent and foster parent from Barrow, Alaska, the northern-most civilized point in North America on the Arctic Ocean. "I hope that I can inspire kids to look to space as the new frontier."

"I want to expand information to the public schools," added Lee Hines, planetarium director from Roswell, N.M. "But not only to the elementary school children. I want to expose their parents to it, as well." As an ambassador, Hines, a fan of space for more than 30 years, plans to conduct planetarium shows and observation sessions in his hometown.

More than 100 of this year's ambassadors are returning volunteers from last year.

JPL's Solar System Ambassador program, open to anyone who is interested in space and active in the community, grew out of the smaller Galileo Ambassador Program, created in 1997. Throughout the years, the program goal has focused on utilizing the gusto of space enthusiasts from all walks of life to spread the word to the public about space exploration.

More information on JPL's Solar System Ambassador program is available at .

JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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