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Creating NASA's Space Science Education and Public Outreach Program: The Real Stuff (Abridged)  

Mercury, November/December 2006 Table of Contents

SMD E/PO Partners

Click on image for a larger version

The formation of partnerships with a wide variety of leading educational organizations across the country has been one of the hallmarks of the Space Science E/PO Program. Collaborations with nearly four hundred such organizations in FY 2005 brought space-science-related educational activities to every state in the country.

Illustration courtesy of L. Cooper (Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters).

by Jeffrey D. Rosendhal

This is a part of the story about how the program recently recognized by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) through its presentation of the 2006 Klumpke-Roberts Award—NASA's Space Science Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) program—was actually planned and implemented. The story is one of bringing about change. It concerns some of the challenges that were met (and lessons learned) in planning the program, developing its underlying policies, establishing the processes required to implement those policies, building the infrastructure intended to knit everything together into a coherent whole, and bringing in the talented individuals required to carry out a world-class program.

At the beginning of the story in early 1994, education within NASA's Office of Space Science (OSS) was largely focused on graduate and post-graduate education primarily supported through research grants and flight missions. There were also a relatively small number of efforts underway directed towards pre-college and public education supported through modest (a few thousand dollars) education supplements to research grants and a handful of larger grants for specific education programs. OSS was spending a little more than $1 million dollars per year on education. The effort to establish a major education group within the Office of Public Outreach at the Space Telescope Science Institute had just been started. A few missions—such as the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer—had put together mission-oriented education programs. Most space scientists thought that, while doing anything other than graduate education was nice in principle, it wasn't really their business. And there was very little understanding as to whether any of the programs underway were actually having any impact on the world of education.

By the beginning of 2005, space science E/PO collectively constituted what may well be the largest single program in astronomy and space science education ever undertaken. E/PO was embedded in every flight mission. More than $40 million per year were being directly spent on space science E/PO activities, and the program participants themselves were providing substantial additional resources. More than 1200 members of the space science community were directly participating in the E/PO program. More than 2000 education institutions and organizations were involved in hundreds of space science E/PO activities, and those activities were, collectively, reaching millions of people per year. Major efforts were underway to assess the effectiveness and impact of the E/PO program. And the conversation within the space science community concerning the legitimacy and desirability of participating in E/PO work was clearly different than it had been ten years earlier.

If you enjoyed this excerpt from a feature article and would like to receive our bi-monthly Mercury magazine, we invite you to join the ASP and receive 6 issues a year.






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