John Reiss, solar system ambassador

Reiss will discuss Cassini mission.

When U.S. Army veteran John Reiss Jr. got a request to make a presentation to retired military officers in Yuma, Ariz., he had no idea it would blossom into a two-day, multi-subject event for potentially hundreds of people.

The request came to Reiss because he is a Solar System Ambassador, one of a nationwide network of more than 200 volunteers coordinated by JPL. The ambassadors lead public programs about space exploration.

On Oct. 17 and 18, Reiss, of Scottsdale, Ariz., and a colleague, Jim Ashley, will be making six presentations at various locations in the Yuma area, including Arizona Western College, the Yuma Marine Corps Air Station and the Army's Yuma Proving Ground. Commanding Officer Col. Mark E. Condra will introduce Reiss at the Yuma Marine Corps Air Station.

Reiss will describe the Mars Odyssey and Cassini-Huygens missions. Mars Odyssey, which will arrive at Mars on Oct. 24 Universal time (Oct. 23 Pacific time), will take measurements of the red planet's atmosphere and collect images to help scientists better understand its composition. Cassini-Huygens is on its way to Saturn and Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

Ashley will present information about asteroids and comets that orbit near Earth. He will also give tips for viewing next month's Leonid meteor shower. Ashley is associate director of Minor Planet Research, Inc., an Arizona-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to discovering near-Earth asteroids and comets.

Retired officer Robert Perrine, program director for the Yuma chapter of the Retired Officers Association, took on the challenge from his colleagues to "spice up" their monthly meetings by suggesting a space presentation. Perrine contacted JPL's Kay Ferrari, coordinator of the Solar System Ambassadors Program, who suggested Reiss.

"We select ambassadors from all across the country to serve as outreach extensions of our missions and John exemplifies what this is by sharing with his local Arizona community," Ferrari said. "It is an especially important time to visit the Marine base and John, as a Vietnam vet, understands this. He is continuing to do this because he understands what military personnel and their families face."

Capitalizing on the varied background of other retired officers, Perrine also discovered a great interest in having presentations elsewhere in the Yuma area.

Reiss feels what he described as a "kindred spirit" with the Yuma Marines and their families. As America's leaders call for the country to return to normalcy, Reiss believes this is a step in the right direction and, hopefully, an uplifting and welcome diversion for families of personnel who may be facing deployment overseas.