Aura Mission E/PO

Project Description:
The Aura Education and Public Outreach program supports the Aura mission by creating a balanced and robust portfolio of activities and programs that educates the public about scientific contributions from Aura and other NASA missions. Aura’s E/PO outcomes emphasize science stories related to Aura’s three principal mission goals. Aura E/PO accomplishes this by providing the E/PO communities with access to scientific data and associated visualizations and nurturing new strategic partnerships and collaborative opportunities. Aura’s E/PO strategy leverages outputs (e.g. stories, data, videos) from across multiple efforts to reach audiences beyond the initial target audience for a broader impact and enable Aura to reach all four of NASA’s E/PO audience outcomes. This effort includes development of educational products and leading collaborative programs that involve multiple missions and content areas.

Aura E/PO educational products
The efforts of the Aura E/PO lead has produced a number of educational products that have been developed, piloted, and evaluated by both internal and external evaluation processes. The Aura E/PO lead also shares these products via various teacher workshops, student programs, public events, and educator professional development.

  • The Engineer a Satellite product engages students in the engineering of satellites and their components, the technology of spaced-based instruments, the science collected from these instruments, and finally the application of math activities to ties all these together. Engineer a Satellite has been conducted numerous times including an NSTA teacher workshop, Maryland Day, and as part of events conducted at the GSFC Visitor’s Center. This activity was also featured in the 2013 Earth Science Week calendar produced by the American Geophysical Institute (AGI).
  • The Ozone Hole poster and companion Color Mapping Lesson (Grades 9-12) introduces students to the use of color maps to visualize scientific data. The sample data is that of the ozone hole and the poster highlights over 30 years of ozone layer observations by NASA missions. The content on the back of the poster covers technical information about the role of ozone in the atmosphere, how NASA instruments observe stratospheric ozone, and how the ozone hole forms. This content was developed in collaboration with NASA scientists and instrument specialists.
  • Air Quality Video, “Breathable,” was developed to explain the complex processes involved in the production of ground-level ozone and how NASA satellite observations reveal that air quality is improving.
  • ChemMatters articles “In the Fog about SMOG” and “The Ozone Layer – Our Global Sunscreen” were developed in partnership with the American Chemical Association (ACS). This high school journal is sent to thousands of Chemistry classes across the country and made available on the ACS web site. This product also included a webinar conducted in partnership with the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and a video podcast produced by the ACS media team.

Earth Stories for Science on a Sphere
The Aura E/PO lead coordinates this collaborative effort to develop a series of stories about Earth Science for the Science On a Sphere (SOS) platform. The objective of this effort is to increase awareness of NASA’s Earth Science data, stories, and key scientific questions from across multiple missions by having these stories presented at SOS installations world-wide.

These stories combine datasets from NASA’s Earth Observation System within the construct of cohesive stories designed specifically for this unique medium and informal venue. Stories and datasets for the scripts will be identified and cultivated by the different Earth Science missions participating in the effort. Stories will be evaluated to ensure they connect with the public and foster continued use of these stories in SOS installations.

The program intends to reach beyond the informal science center venue, but encouraging visitors to explore more about NASA by visiting our web sites, sharing the hands-on activities with their families and community organizations, and viewing NASA data through NEO and My NASA Data web sites. Additionally, the stories, images, and playlists can be leveraged for other NASA events and conferences including Dynamic Planet, Hyperwall, and JPL Puffersphere.

REEL Science Communications Contest
The Aura E/PO leads an Earth Science Video Communication Challenge for high school students. Videos are to explain Earth science concepts to younger students. The 2012-14 contest was the first year this contest was conducted. We received 48 submissions and have 3 winning teams participating in a July media assignment.

In an age of 24-hour news cycles, video streaming to cell phones, video blogs, and the increased use of video clips in the classroom, students are consuming media almost continuously. The ability to use video for presenting science accurately and tell a story are ever more important in the communication of the science and promoting the work done at NASA.

The objective of this program is to use social media to engage youth interested and skilled in creative and performing arts to apply their interests to science communication in order to foster an awareness of NASA Earth Science and career pathways in STEM fields. Students are encouraged to apply creative solutions to explain STEM concepts in a way that connects with younger students and effectively holds their attention to convey the concepts effectively.

The REEL Science Communications Contest is a collaborative effort with multiple Earth science missions. The contest kicks-off during Earth Science Week in October and winners are announced around Earth Day the following April.

Videos are judged for science accuracy, video quality, and creativity. Winners are invited to participate in a month-long project where they develop a video to accompany a NASA media campaign. This remote workshop focuses on the art of science communication with presentations from producers, editors, animators and others in the Office of Communication. During the month, participants will apply what they learn from NASA producers, editors, and others to convey science to their peers via streaming video. Participants experience the challenge of pulling together a science story, interviewing scientists, communicating effectively and correctly, and identifying engaging ways to connect with their audience. They also receive feedback along the way to improve the accuracy of their video. By the end of the month, participants complete an assignment communicating a recent science highlight using interviews with scientists and data visualizations from NASA Earth Observing Satellites. Videos are captioned then posted on NASA sites and submitted to the NASA SMD education product review.

Ozone and Air Quality Exhibit and Bio-indicator Garden
The Ozone Garden is part of Aura's Public Outreach program to educate the public about ground-level ozone and air quality. The garden has been an on-going exhibit at NASA's Goddard Visitor's Center that includes education and public outreach components. The garden has been re-established in collaboration with USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and the Raleigh Agriculture Research Service. The goal of this exhibit is to communicate to the public about air quality and ozone damage to plants, connect tangible ozone affects to the importance of satellite observations, and connect to GLOBE air quality protocols. Currently, the Aura EPO lead in the progress of designing outdoor interpretive panels to help visitors understand the role of a bioindicator garden and it's connection to the science being conducted with Aura data about air quality.

The Ozone Exhibit is the indoor companion to the Ozone Garden. The exhibit will display data that is being collected by an Ozone monitor and weather station. This data is also uploading every 10 minutes to a global network via the site. Completion of this exhibit will include interpretive panels that communicate to the public about Ozone – how it can be "good" or "bad" depending on where it is in the atmosphere, illustrate how NASA's missions are studying this chemistry in our atmosphere, and support GLOBE training and activities.

Exploring the Electromagnetic Spectrum
This product involves developing a unique educational product that engages young children in NASA technology through investigations with an electronic children’s toy that is versatile and yet easy enough for a child to use. We are partnering with a commercial company (littleBits Electronics) to prototype and develop an innovative set of electronic components with supporting hands-on activities focused on the electromagnetic spectrum (EM) – specifically wavelengths used in Earth remote sensing science (UV, Visible, IR and Microwave). The objective is to connect the physics of electromagnetic waves, the engineering and technology of remote sensing instruments and the science achieved from the NASA Earth Observing System. The proposed work will offer a unique educational opportunity to bridge Science, Technology and Engineering by developing new tools and hands-on activities that engage young children to investigate the EM spectrum and explore NASA science.

These activities are currently in development and will provide much needed active-learning investigations for STEM education particularly for Technology and Engineering. We hope to create a low-cost and technically correct example for how spectrometers are constructed and how they collect valuable observations of the physical world. The activities will also provide a vehicle to compare and contrast properties of different electromagnetic waves as a way to illustrate why scientists and engineers develop multiple science instruments that are tuned to very specific regions of the EM spectrum depending on what they need to measure.

Lead Institution:
Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC)


Aura partners with the American Chemical Society on stories and materials related to their ChemMatters journal for high school chemistry classes.

Aura provides materials and content for the Earth Science Week program in partnership with the American Geophysical Institute (AGI).

The newest partnership is with a commercial electronic toy company (littleBits Electronics) for the development of develop an innovative set of electronic components with supporting hands-on activities focused on the electromagnetic spectrum. The result of this collaboration will be an electronics kit with NASA activities and made available to the public through commercial retail channels. (Space Act Agreement pending).

Number of K-12 Teachers, Direct Interactions, FY12 (From OEPM): 18
Number of K-12 Students, Direct Interactions, FY12 (From OEPM): 210
Number of Community College Students, Direct Interactions, FY12 (From OEPM): 25

Additional metrics:
Engineer a Satellite – conferences and events:

  • Earth Day on the National Mall (April 2012) – 610 participants


  • Science and Engineering Festival (May 2012) – 600 participants
  • Odyssey of the Mind World Finals (May 2012) – 500 students grades 6-12
  • SMD EPO retreat (April 2013) – shared 55 kits with Earth Science EPO community

Engineer a Satellite – teacher workshops, school presentations, and student events

  • May 2012 - activitiy shared with 110 5th graders


  • May 2012 – conducted with 24 students in a pre-K class
  • April 2012 - demonstration to 110 6th-12th grade girls as part of the “Girls In Technology Sharing Our Success program”
  • Sept 2012 – activity conducted with 15 3rd graders at Nikolai-Schule in Lippstadt, Germany
  • June 2012 – 20 activities and kits handed out at HQ after his Hyper Wall presentation - internal NASA audience
  • June 2012 – activity conducted with 40 5th -8th grade teachers in Richmond, VA

Effectiveness and Impact:
Aura Education and Public Outreach educational products

  • The Engineer a Satellite activity was piloted at large-scale venues such as Earth Day and the Science and Engineering Festival. The final activity was evaluated and approved by the SMD education product review.
  • The Ozone Hole poster and Color Mapping lesson (both English and Spanish) were reviewed by a science education professor and pilot tested by high school students and approved by the SMD education product review.
  • This video was piloted with six 7th grade classes to assess student understanding of air pollution and what can be observed from space. The product is currently in the SMD education product review.
  • The ChemMatters articles were reviewed by the ACS review board and were published in the April 2013 issue of ChemMatters. These articles are currently in the SMD education product review.

Earth Stories for Science on a Sphere
A needs assessment survey was conducted in Fall of 2011 with the SOS community (NOAA partners and SOS installations) to determine how to best meet their needs for getting NASA Earth Science into their programs. Results of the needs assessment show the most useful length for presentations is between 5 minutes (41.5%) and 10 minutes (43.9%). Only 12.2% of respondents indicated longer presentations are most useful. Informal audiences are most important to SOS installations with 63.4% noting the General Public and 43.9% noting Families with Children under 12 are extremely important. A secondary audience included school groups with installations valuing middle school groups (34.1%) more than elementary (27.5%) and far more than high schools (19.5%). Personnel running SOS installations would prefer presentations designed for 5-10 minutes in length and geared toward the informal audience with supporting materials focused describing and accessing recent data.

Supplemental hands-on activities are also desired for the informal science and technology center audience that help centers design programs to engage school and community groups. Additional resources that were noted as being extremely useful were materials relating to actual data with 43.9% wanting additional information about the datasets and 47.5% wanting access to updated datasets. Hands-on activities were also valued highly to use with both school groups (43.9%) and with the general public (34.2%). Only 17.1% of respondents noted that classroom lessons were highly important with one comment that lessons not aligned to local curriculum standards are not useful to their visitors.

These results were integrated into our development process to ensure we are meeting the needs of the personnel uses these materials at their institutions. Scripts and supporting materials will be designed for an informal audience in a format that meets the needs of the docents and science centers. A secondary audience of formal educators and students will be met through aligning materials to standards, submitting materials through the NASA education product review, and helping installations build programs for school group.

Breathable: NASA Monitors Our Improving Air Quality
We conducted pre- and post- surveys for an audience group of 166 students from eight classrooms to assess the video’s impact on educating students about the ozone.

The video successfully educated students that air quality has been improving over the last 10 years. Prior to watching the video, 81% students said air quality has been getting worse over the past 10 years while only 4% said it was getting better; after the video 84% students stated air quality was getting better and 10% said it was getting worse.

Before watching the video:

  • Students did not list ozone as a main ingredient of smog; the top responses were: smoke, fog, I don’t know, pollution, air, and gas.


  • The majority of students (83%) were not aware that NASA monitors and studies air pollution. Students responded with EPA (80%) and NOAA (57%).

After watching the video:

  • Most students knew NOx (82%) and sunlight (56%) were required to produce ozone but fewer got VOCs (40%) correct. SO2 (51%) and CO2 (45%) were selected more frequently than VOCs.


  • Most students learned that cars (61%) and factories (56%) were the main source of ozone-forming pollutants.
  • The majority of students learned that AURA monitors NO2 (64%) and ozone (67%). Fewer remembered SO2 (53%) or possibly confused the option with sulfates (16%).
  • Students did not have a good sense of what technologies or policies have been implemented to reduce smog. I don’t know (19%) was the most common answer, followed by gas pump sleeves (18%), cleaner gas (17%), improvements to cars (17%) and less smoke from factories (13%). Satellites were listed by only 2% of the students. Responses tended to be vague, e.g. “factories can’t release as much smoke” and “changing cars for the better;” while some students said factories needed to close, the majority of related responses indicate the students understand that regulations need to be put in place as opposed to completely closing them. (11% of students skipped this question.)
  • Students generally focused on transportation resources regarding ways they can help improve air quality in their town:carpool, drive less, walk & bike more, as well as study and monitor the air quality. (12% of students skipped this question.)
  • Nearly all students (94%) were inspired by the video: most want to be more proactive (51%), do more research (36%), do an experiment or project (30%), find out more about NASA’s role (27%) or find out more about NASA in general (26%). (15% of students skipped this question.)

Below are the major areas of misunderstanding, consider content and animation edits that can correctly reinforce these topics:

Ingredients of smog
Prior to watching the video the students did not have a good grasp on what makes up smog. This question is not asked post-video and while the video appears to do a good job teaching students what causes smog, it isn’t clear if they now have a better idea of what ingredients are in smog. The open-ended responses tended to be fairly vague with little detail indicating they understand the connection between ozone and smog. There was a lot of mention of smoke and exhaust from factories, cars and fire but little reference to the chemical reaction forming ozone.

Sulfur Dioxide v. Sulfates
Just over half of the students incorrectly listed sulfur dioxide as a component required to produce smog while only one third of the students correctly selected volatile organic compounds. There may have also been some confusion between sulfur dioxide and sulfates with regards to the pollutants that Aura is monitoring - most students correctly selected nitrogen dioxide and ozone but some answers were split between sulfur dioxide and sulfates.

NASA’s role in research
There was very little knowledge of NASA’s role in studying air quality prior to watching the video. This question is not asked again after the video but approximately 25% of the students indicated they wanted to both learn more about NASA’s role in air quality as well about NASA in general. With the high success rate on the NASA Aura satellite question, it can be assumed that students got this connection but based on the evaluator’s user research experience as it relates to NASA Earth science efforts, there is generally a lack of understanding about NASA’s role and impact in this domain.

Technologies and policies
Given that the most common response was “I don’t know” and 11% students skipped this question this is an area of opportunity to provide more resources and information to students. Some students retained the information about cars as it relates to gas pump sleeves and cleaner gas as well as restrictions on burning trash. There were some references to completely closing factories and stop driving but in general the related responses indicated limitations and regulations were needed. Only 4 students mentioned the role of satellite technology. However, given the limited topics listed and the lack of detail in the responses it is evident that students would benefit from more information on this topic.

What actions can you take?
The actions related to transportation were absorbed - drive less, carpool, walk or bike more. Students also noted the importance of monitoring air quality and studying new ways to improve it - presumably for adults in the community and science field or career aspirations. There were fewer responses that relate to more specific actions students could take, e.g. recycling, reusing, planting trees, educating others on the importance of taking steps to improve air quality. This is another area that could be emphasized for students as half of them stated they were inspired to do more to improve air quality.

REEL Science Communications Contest
The 2012-14 contest was the first year this contest was conducted. We received 48 submissions and have 3 winning teams participating in a July media assignment. The evaluation report for this project is attached.

Ozone and Air Quality Exhibit and Bio-indicator Garden
Currently in the process of being evaluated.

Exploring the Electromagnetic Spectrum activities
Currently in development and formative evaluation processes.

I went to career day and talked to two 3rd grade classes. You would not believe the excitement when they walked in and saw the Legos and the happiness when I said they could take them home. I didn't have time to go through the activity with them and talked more about the lenticulars - how we humans impact the environment. They definitely got it. All in all, I was impressed with how aware they were. There were lots of "oh cools!" when they saw the lenticulars. I had a few extras of the Lego sets and told the kids with sisters and brothers they could take the extras. They were all gone in a matter of seconds. And I heard a few kids say "I want to be a scientist when I grow up. Aura Deputy Scientist