Solar System Ambassadors

Solar System Ambassadors Program

 

The more than 500 volunteers that make up NASA’s Solar System Ambassadors Program bring the excitement of NASA science and engineering to children, teachers, and adults across the country and in several international locations. These trained volunteers share the latest and greatest from NASA’s missions with the public – holding more than 25,000 events and directly interacting with over 8.3 million people since 2000!

More about the Solar System Ambassador program can be found at:
http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador

 


Project Description:
Solar System Ambassadors (SSA) are space enthusiasts from all walks of life who serve as NASA volunteers in their states, sharing the story of the agency’s space exploration efforts with people in their local communities.

The Solar System Ambassadors program (SSA) began in 1997 as the Galileo Ambassador Program, affiliated with the Galileo mission to Jupiter. During the first year of operation, 18 Galileo Ambassadors were selected and trained. Of that number, 12 have remained with the program over the past 16 years. In 1999, when the Galileo mission was ending, other Solar System missions at JPL lent their support to turn the Galileo Ambassador program into the Solar System Ambassadors program.
In 2002, the current Solar System Ambassadors program business model was developed in partnership with the following offices…

  • Caltech Office of General Counsel – legal matters, volunteer agreements
  • JPL Contracts Management Office – NASA prime contract compliance
  • Caltech Human Resources – liability insurance for events
  • Caltech Workers Compensation Office – alternative to state Workers Compensation insurance
  • JPL Security – background check and badging advice
  • JPL Ethics Office – proper business conduct
  • JPL Media Relations – appropriate media training
  • JPL Legislative Affairs – advice on interactions with elected officials
  • JPL Institutional Communications – logo and materials use policy
  • NASA Office of Space Science – provided an evaluation of the program

Note: For the protection of JPL, Caltech and the volunteers, the Solar System Ambassadors program business model includes liability insurance coverage for Ambassador’s events, if required. This insurance is provided by the California Institute of Technology, JPL’s managing organization. Volunteers are also provided risk accident insurance in case of injury while conducting an event. This risk accident insurance policy takes the place of state-mandated workers compensation insurance, a requirement for volunteers as well as employees.

 

 

Currently, there are more than 500 volunteers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam, along with expatriate Americans in Haiti, The Netherlands, France, Kenya and Afghanistan, who serve their communities as Solar System Ambassadors.

 

 

 

Selection
Once a year in September, space enthusiasts may apply to become Solar System Ambassadors. Applicants are selected based on a rigorous set of criteria that include: education, interest, demonstrated ability, community involvement, established connections, geographic diversity, and proposed events.

Once selected, Ambassadors participate in required trainings, including Orientation, Ethics and their choice of mission-specific topics. Within their first year of service, they conduct and report four community events. Once SSAs successfully complete their first year of service, they are eligible to renew their participation every two years, as long as all parties agree that the terms of the terms of the agreement are fulfilled.

Training
Training on mission-related topics is conducted in partnership with the NASA Museum Alliance. Working with mission personnel and EPO leads, professional development telecons are hosted several times a month to acquaint volunteers with information on NASA’s space exploration efforts. On the telecons, mission scientists, engineers and EPO personnel review the material with the volunteers and answer questions. These telecons are recorded and archived on the NASA Nationwide website, the SSA training website that is also available to other NASA volunteer networks.


Lead Institution:
NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


Partnerships:
The Solar System Ambassadors program (SSA) began in 1997 as the Galileo Ambassador Program, affiliated with the Galileo mission to Jupiter. During the first year of operation, 18 Galileo Ambassadors were selected and trained. Of that number, 12 have remained with the program over the past 16 years. In 1999, when the Galileo mission was ending, other Solar System missions at JPL lent their support to turn the Galileo Ambassador program into the Solar System Ambassadors program.

The Solar System Ambassadors program is ongoing and serves all NASA missions.

Current partners of the Solar System Ambassadors program include:

  • NASA Science Mission Directorate
  • Solar System missions’ EPO leads, scientists and engineers
  • Earth missions’ EPO leads, scientists and engineers
  • Heliophysics missions’ EPO leads, scientists and engineers
  • Astrophysics missions’ EPO leads, scientists and engineers
  • NASA’s Deep Space Network personnel
  • NASA Museum Alliance personnel

 


Metrics:
Solar System Ambassadors FY2012 totals (as reported to OEPM):

Total SSA Events 2,258

Total Direct Events:
Presentations/classroom visits 615,535
Exhibit/Display/Booth 42,549

Total Indirect Events:
Webcast 41,388
Distance Learning (eg, Second Life) 149

Total Media Events:
TV/Video Broadcast 17,370,573
Radio/Audio Broadcast 2,740,932
Publications 3,066,963


Effectiveness and Impact:
Over the past 16 years, a total of 983 people have served as Solar System Ambassadors.

Since 2000, the Solar System Ambassadors have held over 25,000 events and directly interacted with over 8.3 million people.

Solar System Ambassadors FY2012 totals since 2000 (as of June 7, 2013):

Total SSA Events 25,059

Total Number of People Reached in Direct Events:
Presentations/classroom visits 8,231,490
Exhibit/Display/Booth 1,042,051

Total Indirect Events:
Webcast 2,376,329
Distance Learning (e.g., Second Life) 165,729

Total Media Events:
TV/Video Broadcast 128,527,737
Radio/Audio Broadcast 91,719,487
Publications 77,761,356
Website 126,209,881

Demographics (when available):

  • Disabled 184,782
  • African American 1,019,935
  • Hispanic 1,216,068
  • Native American 23,054
  • Pacific Islander 26,906
  • Women & Girls 2,304,216
  • Other Diversity 47,638

 

 


Map of Solar System Ambassador events conducted since 2000 in the continental United States. Click to enlarge.

 

From May 30, 2013 onward, Solar System Ambassadors have submitted plans for 353 events, a number which is certain to increase. Upcoming public SSA events may be viewed on the SSA Calendar of Events at: http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador/events.html.

 

 

When Solar System Ambassadors join the program, they are encouraged to select the audiences they are most comfortable working with. After a while, this leads them to take on more challenging groups and increases the volunteer’s personal growth and satisfaction.

Audiences reached by the SSA program include:

  • Early childhood educators and students (preK)
  • Elementary educators and students (grades K-5)
  • Middle school educators and students (grades 6-8)
  • High school educators and students (grades 9-12)
  • Higher Education educators and students
  • Scientists
  • Afterschool educators and students
  • General Public
  • Informal educators and audiences
  • Families with children
  • Underserved and/or underrepresented audiences
  • Pre-service teachers
  • Homeschool students
  • Senior citizens
  • Differently-abled people of all ages

 


Quotes from Solar System Ambassadors
“My school corporation thinks it is great that we have SSA's in our district. It makes a more valid point to the teaching of astronomy and the complete utilization of our two planetariums in our school district.”

“The Ambassador program has enabled me to expand my outreach program to more local students. I consider my volunteer efforts to be a form of "payback" for those who help start the "spark" in myself and helped put me on a path to a career in the space sciences.”

“I can tell from the people that stay after that they get charged up about the subject. Often they want more material for their children. I know a few attendees have joined a local 4-H Space & Astronomy Club that I lead after attending one of my presentations.”

“A lot of the groups I talk to are in "recreation mode" - parents with their children style. These are parents who are trying to expose their children to positive learning experiences. I like to think that one of the biggest impacts I have is on the ability of those parents to continue the learning experience with their children. I teach them and their children a few basics of how to find their way around the sky - talk about interesting things they will be able to see from their yard when they get back home, and tie those things in with questions that NASA is asking in their missions and where to find out more on the internet about those missions.”

“I want to let you know that yesterday it was announced that I have been appointed as Adjunct Curator for Space History. The appointment letter specifically mentions my status as a Solar System Ambassador as a qualification. As you might imagine, this is a great honor and one that I did not solicit. In fact, I never imagined that I might hold such a position. Thank you for your support over the years; the very fact that I work at the [museum] is a result of having become a SSA.“

"My employer in Seattle is very supportive of my NASA volunteer work. They give me some much-appreciated schedule flexibility to give presentations on the Bremerton side of Puget Sound."

“If what I do as an Ambassador makes a difference in the life of just one child, then it was worth doing.”

 

 


Quotes from Solar System Ambassadors Audiences:
From a teacher in Michigan: “I wanted to inform you about our delightful experience with one of your Solar System Ambassadors and his presentation to my students. [He] presented to three of my technology classes, 1st, 4th and 5th grades. His presentation was engaging and interactive, age appropriate and captured the students’ interest. His knowledge of the subject matter was extensive and his enthusiasm contagious. We look forward to hosting [him] again in the near future. What a delightful introduction to your program.”

From the Dean of a University in rural Georgia: “Having Bea as a Solar System Ambassador has been a benefit to our community.”

From a teacher in Florida: “[This was] perfect for 6th grade. The kids were really engaged! Great job!"

From a staffer at a rehabilitation center in Georgia: "It was very rewarding to see how many of the folks in wheelchairs became so excited to be able to see the moon's craters up close."

From a friend at a memorial service for an Ambassador who passed away recently: "She battled multiple health problems and was legally blind but enhanced our vision and understanding of worlds well beyond our own. She will be missed."

From a participant at an SSA’s Curiosity landing event in rural Wisconsin: “There were telescopes outside to view Mars and a TV tuned to the NASA channel. John ran ‘Eyes on the Solar System’ on his computer. When Curiosity landed, we all went wild.”

Comment from an employee on the 21 SSAs who helped staff JPL’s 2012 open house: “I’m always impressed by the caliber of Ambassadors and this year was no exception. You all are WONDERFUL ambassadors and NASA is lucky to have you!”

From a school principal in Idaho after a conversation with an Ambassador about her motives for being a NASA volunteer: “[SSA] IS a win-win situation for both of us."

From a JPLer to the SSA Coordinator after working with an Ambassador in North Carolina: “Our Solar System Ambassador was an extremely enthusiastic, knowledgeable, friendly and a tireless helper. I could not have done this exhibit on my own. You provide great volunteers, thank you. I believe it was a good use of our time and treasure."