Judging from this year’s group of Solar System Ambassadors, the
volunteers being recruited by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for next year
will be a diverse group using many approaches to spread excitement about space
exploration in their communities.

James McLean, a software engineer in York, Maine, set up a telescope
outside York High School on a spring night to offer adults and teen-agers views
of Saturn and Jupiter.

Eileen Poling, a teacher in Parsons, W.Va., told young children a story
and led them in fun activities about the planets at a Five Rivers Public Library
story hour in July.

Dr. Darrell Hoskins, a veterinarian in Birmingham, Ala., presented visual
programs to church groups about exploring Mars and the possibility of life on
Jupiter’s moon Europa.

“The people who make good ambassadors are enthusiastic self-starters
who are already active in their communities,” said Kay Ferrari, national
coordinator for the Solar System Ambassador program based at JPL in Pasadena,
Calif. “They’re in all different types of careers: We have a retired nun in
California, a TV weatherman in Michigan, a budget analyst for the Air National
Guard in Washington.”

The program is accepting applications through Sept. 30 for volunteers to
serve as Solar System Ambassadors in 2003. Selections will be announced in
December. Each of the 50 states plus Puerto Rico has at least one of the current
278 ambassadors. Up to 300 volunteers will be selected for 2003, Ferrari said.

JPL helps the ambassadors keep informed about NASA missions such as
Genesis, to collect samples of material ejected by the Sun; Cassini, to examine
Saturn; Stardust, to bring home samples of dust from a comet; and Mars
Odyssey, mapping the extent of water ice and other interesting deposits on Mars.
In teleconferences, ambassadors learn directly from scientists and engineers
working on the missions. JPL also supplies the volunteers with presentation
materials and ideas to help them share exciting news about solar-system
exploration with other people in their communities.

Each ambassador, in return, commits to arranging and carrying out at
least four public outreach projects during the year. Part of NASA’s mission is to
inspire the next generation of explorers.

Craig Molstad, a community-development planner in Onamia, Minn.,
usually combines outdoor sky-viewing and indoor picture-viewing for his Solar
System Ambassador programs at schools and summer camps. He has
emphasized both the local heritage of Ojibway Indian traditions about the stars
and planets and the benefit of having a dark sky far from big-city lights. “I think
it’s important to actually take people out and look at the sky. It’s one of the
blessings of living in a rural area,” he said.

Monte Pescador, a Colorado college student, writes a column called
“Four Corners, One Sky” for his local Cortez Sentinel newspaper as an outreach
project, but also sees the rewards from presenting programs in person to fifth
graders. “When you see the kids’ eyes light up about something like what a
comet is made of, that’s the payback,” he said. “Their imaginations get going and
they’re thinking about something that’s out beyond the farmland and mesas that
surround Cortez.”

Maine’s McLean said, “Part of why I got involved with JPL is that I’ve
got two boys in junior high and high school. I want to help them be excited
about space the way I was as a boy back in the time of the buildup toward
astronauts going to the Moon.”

Poling said she appreciates the networking with other ambassadors, as
well as the handout materials and other support from JPL. When she visited
Puerto Rico this year to strengthen her Spanish-language teaching skills, she
arranged to meet a Solar System Ambassador there, Angel Sanabria. “Who’d
have thought somebody from West Virginia and somebody from Puerto Rico
would be helping each other plan programs about space exploration?” Poling

For more information about the Solar System Ambassadors program, see
the Web site at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador or contact the coordinator,
Kay Ferrari, at ambassadors@jpl.nasa.gov or (818) 354-7581. JPL is managed
for NASA by the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

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NOTE TO EDITORS: Current Solar System Ambassadors are listed at
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador/usstates.html . Guy Webster, at (818) 354-
6278, can help you contact them.