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Dr. Cheick Diarra, who oversees educational outreach efforts for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Exploration Program Office, has been designated the 19th goodwill ambassador of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to the continent of Africa.

His appointment was announced May 12 by UNESCO Director General Federico Mayor and represents several firsts in the organization's 50-year history of promoting collaboration among nations through education, science, culture and communication. Diarra, who was born in Mali, West Africa, is the first ambassador originally from Africa, the first from the sciences and the first American citizen to hold the post.

In his role as an ambassador for science and technology education, Diarra, who holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Howard University, Washington, DC, will be working toward establishing a university in Africa with a strong science curriculum. He also will be involved in efforts to raise public awareness of the importance of science and mathematics to global peace and technological advancement.

Diarra joins other UNESCO ambassadors such as actress Catherine Deneuve, Brazilian soccer star Pele and French musician Jean-Michel Jarre in their efforts to enrich the educational, scientific and cultural fabric of the global community.

He joined NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA in 1988 as a mission designer. He has calculated the spacecraft trajectories of such flight projects as the Magellan mission to Venus, the Ulysses mission to the poles of the Sun, the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Mars Observer mission. Diarra also worked as navigator on the Mars Pathfinder mission design team. Currently he manages the Mars Exploration Program Office's educational and public outreach efforts, and is working on international collaboration for future missions to Mars.

Diarra and his wife, Assa, live in Altadena, CA, and have one daughter.


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