NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Sunspots touch both K.B. Hallmark's job as a police communications supervisor in Victoria, Texas, and his volunteer sideline of helping people learn about space.

Hallmark and his wife, Janet, and about 35 other members of the Solar System Ambassadors Program have planned public outreach activities in communities from coast to coast on or near Space Day, which is May 3. The ambassadors program is coordinated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The Hallmarks will team with their local Crossroads Astronomy Club for a May 5 event in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Victoria, offering views through telescopes equipped with special filters for viewing the Sun.

"Not everyone can say they've seen sunspots. A lot of people are surprised that with special preparations they can look at the Sun safely, and for free," said K.B. Hallmark, who has organized similar parking-lot solar telescope events twice before and drawn hundreds of curious viewers.

He explains to them how solar storms can affect activities on Earth, such as by disrupting radio communications. "During peak periods of solar activity, like we've been having this year, we get skips from all over tearing up the state police radio," he said.

The goal of Space Day is to advance science, mathematics and technology education and to inspire young people to realize the vision of Earth's space pioneers. The focal point event will be at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

The solar system ambassadors' outreach events year-round include information about NASA missions to explore the Sun and planets. Many of the missions are managed by JPL, which is operated for NASA by the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

"The ambassadors are dedicated volunteers who like to share their excitement about exploration of the solar system," said JPL's Kay Ferrari, coordinator of the program. "They come from all kinds of backgrounds and careers: teachers, engineers, business executives, planetarium directors. You name it."

An ambassador who co-owns a landscaping business in Goodland, Kan., Shirley Hussey Cooper, is renting a school auditorium the evening of May 3 for a Space Day event about missions to Jupiter, Mars and Saturn. She has been fascinated with the sky since her father, an early aviator who built his first plane in 1924, took her flying before she could walk. She remembers telling other kids in her second grade about the planets by drawing with a stick in the playground dirt.

"I like to encourage people to enrich their lives by looking up a little more," she said. "I think the space program is inspiring and important for the future, so I just like telling people about it."

In Bridgewater, N.J., a free space-exploration exhibit that opened this week at the Somerset County Extension Center will stay open through May 4. Lisa Rothenburger, who organized it, is a county agent for 4-H youth programs, as well as a solar system ambassador. She expects the exhibit to be seen by more than 500 adults and youths.

"I want people to feel the excitement about the space program that we felt in 1969," Rothenburger said. "The program is still doing amazing things -- sending spacecraft to Mars, landing on an asteroid, studying moons of other planets."

The National 4-H Council, as well as NASA, the National Science Teachers Association and more than 60 other organizations co-sponsor Space Day.

The Solar System Ambassadors Program currently boasts 206 ambassadors in 48 states and on a U.S. military base in South Korea. They were selected by JPL on the basis of their backgrounds and their plans for public outreach activities. JPL provides them with educational materials and training sessions, including contacts with mission scientists. Last year, ambassadors' events reached more than 500,000 people.

Additional examples illustrate the assortment of events some ambassadors will lead on or near Space Day. Dr. Gregory Shanos, a pharmacist, will lead a May 5 program at a museum in Tampa, Fla., about how impacts of comets and asteroids have shaped evolution of life on Earth. Deanna Walvatne, a teacher, will be sharing space-exploration information on May 4 at a Boy Scout camporee in Sumner, Iowa. At a bookstore in Los Angeles on May 3, engineering student Jeffrey Kwong will present a look at some of the ways NASA spacecraft study the solar system.

More information about the Solar System Ambassadors Program is available online at .

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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