Status Report

Defining Long Term Goals and Setting Priorities for Education and Outreach, 2003 to 2013 – Panel Report

By SpaceRef Editor
November 9, 2001
Filed under , ,

*Jennifer Grier (PSI)

David H. Atkinson (U. Idaho)

Nadine Barlow (U. Ctr. Florida)

Ian Griffin (STScI)

James Hoffman (JPL)

Beatriz Kelly-Serrato (NASA JSC)

Laszlo Kesthelyi

Michael Klein (JPL)

Sheri Klug (ASU)

Bob Kolvoord (JMU)

Peter Lanagan

Larry A. Lebofsky (U. Arizona)

David J. Lien (Oklahoma State)

Marilyn Lindstrom (NASA JSC)

Rosaly Lopes (JPL)

Leslie Lowes (JPL)

Jay Manifold (Applied Space)

Rachel Mastrapa (U. Arizona)

Penny A. Morris (U. Houston)

Moses Milazzo

Ellis D. Miner (JPL)

Penny A. Morris (U. Houston)

Cassandra Runyon (C. Charleston)

Anita Sohus (JPL)

Mary Urquhart (NASA Ames)

Robert L. Warasila (Suffolk County CC)

Paul Withers (U. Arizona)

Chuck Wood (Columbia U.)





NASA Motivations and Objectives

NASA Programs to Achieve Education Objectives

Office of Space Science, E/PO in Solar System Exploration

Summary – Current State of Knowledge


Scientist Involvement

Public Relations

Mission Centered Funding

Access to Resources

Underrepresented Groups







Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) activities are an integral part of NASA’s mandated mission and detailed in its Strategic Plan. The Office of Space Science Solar System Exploration (OSS SSE) E/PO program has made great strides in defining priorities and achieving its goals in the last five years. The Education and Public Outreach panel for NASA’s Decadal Survey has generated this report, which contains a listing of key issues, priorities, and recommendations to be addressed for the years 2003-2013 to assist the OSS SSE in future prioritization and planning. Key issues are: improving the involvement of planetary science professionals in E/PO activities; combating scientific elitism; examining the association between E/PO programs and public relations; re-examining funding E/PO activities from an audience perspective as opposed to a mission-centered perspective; improving access to resources for scientists, educators, students and partner organizations; promoting communication between educational programs at NASA; and reaching traditionally underrepresented groups, women, minorities and the disabled with science education programs. The panel has developed a list of specific recommendations to be implemented to improve OSS SSE E/PO activities in the next decade. These recommendations deal with topics such as: the production of evaluated resource web sites for scientists and educators; the development of a policy of long-term funding for the maintenance of web sites and other tools after they are created; methods for reaching those who do not have computer access through television and public programs; and the development of a reward system to recognize and encourage scientist involvement in E/PO activities.


This report is intended for use by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to help identify, define, and implement improvements and new programs related to its education and public outreach (E/PO) efforts. Specifically, this report is targeted at the needs of the Office of Space Science (OSS) division of Solar System Exploration for the decade 2003-2013. However, since education and outreach are a part of every division of the OSS, overlap with other programs is to be both expected and desired. Therefore many of the issues and recommendations discussed in this report are relevant to all areas of science education at NASA. The reverse is also true; how NASA conducts E/PO in other divisions and departments is relevant to the functioning of OSS Solar System E/PO endeavors.


NASA Motivations and Objectives

Why is NASA involved in Education and Public Outreach, and what are its stated motivations and objectives? Both the National Space Act of 1958, and NASA’s Strategic Plan define the foundation on which NASA has built its programs for E/PO.

The National Space Act of 1958 mandates that NASA Administration “provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof.” A key element of NASA’s strategic plan is to “Communicate Knowledge”. The strategic plan further states ‘The knowledge generated by NASA’s activities is without purpose if it is not shared with those who can use it. This includes ? science and technology communicators such as educators, publishers, museums, and the media, and every citizen of the United States and the world.’ The Plan outlines specific goals in E/PO with respect to its major areas of operation in: Space Science (Share the excitement and knowledge generated by scientific discovery and improve science education), Biological and Physical Research (Use space research opportunities to improve academic achievement and the quality of life), and Human Exploration and Development of Space (Share the Experience and Benefits of Discovery).

NASA Programs to Achieve Education Objectives

NASA has developed programs both in and outside of the OSS to define and meet E/PO goals and objectives. Further information on NASA’s present position, current direction and ‘state of knowledge’ in education can be therefore found by looking, for example, at the NASA Education Implementation Plan, the Space Grant Strategic Plan, and OSS E/PO Strategic Plan, amongst others.

The NASA Education Implementation Plan notes NASA’s desire to strive for ‘Educational Excellence’, involving ‘the educational community in our endeavors to inspire America’s students, create learning opportunities, and enlighten inquisitive minds.’ The Mission statement in this Plan is for NASA to ‘use its resources to support educational excellence for all.’

The customers of this department are the formal and informal education community. (‘The formal community is defined as K-12, Community College, Undergraduate, Graduate, and Post doctoral. The informal community includes both K-12 and post-secondary levels, as well as science and technology centers, museums, planetariums and other nonprofit education organizations.’). This department is targeting certain improvement initiatives: Focus and Coordinate State-Based Efforts, Enhance Instructional Products and Dissemination, Improve Education Program Integration and Coordination, Facilitate NASA Research in the Education Community, Support Pre-service Education, and Target Informal Education.

The Strategic Plan of the NASA Space Grant College and Fellowship Program lists a number of priority items which show a grasp of current trends and needs for E/PO in general, although naturally specifically targeted for undergraduate education including: Teacher preparation, classroom teaching, research opportunities for undergraduates, and interdisciplinary curricula; Formation of partnerships between engineering schools and education institutions, industry, and government; Stress development of interdisciplinary courses and curricula; Enhance pre-college teacher education (Pre-service) programs through collaborations among education, science, and engineering disciplines; Promote development of community college initiatives, high technology and distance learning projects, career retraining, and the development of new technical courses; Aeronautics, science, and technology-based programs or activities that serve industry, state or local government, nonprofit organizations, children and adults such as non-technical courses, lectures, science fairs, and assorted media format, museum and planetarium programs, and other activities that are offered outside of a formal academic setting and; Focus on involving women, underrepresented groups, and persons with disabilities in all aspects of education

Office of Space Science, E/PO in Solar System Exploration

Along with E/PO conducted by these programs, the Office of Space Science (OSS) has developed its own program for E/PO. OSS has stated its vision and mission for education in its Strategic Plan as follows ‘The Office of Space Science will use its knowledge and discoveries about the Sun, the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe to develop education and public outreach opportunities and activities that enhance science, mathematics, and technology education and the scientific and technological literacy of all Americans. The education mission of OSS is to engage its community of research scientists, managers, engineers, and support staff across the nation in education and public outreach activities to fulfill its vision. To this end, OSS will use all its resources, specifically drawing on the inspirational nature of space science; the remarkable results from its missions; and the special talents of its research community in universities, institutes, and laboratories throughout the country.’

To meet its goals the OSS has developed a ‘Support Network’ of Forums and Brokers/ Facilitators. Each Forum is associated with a scientific theme, and each Broker/ Facilitator associated with a geographical region. The Forums work both independently and in partnership on certain programs. The OSS specifically has targeted areas for continued development as listed in The Annual Report of the OSS E/PO.

The specific goals of the OSS E/PO are:

 OSS will use space science missions and research programs and the talents and resources of its research and development communities to make significant and measurable contributions to meeting national goals for the reform of science, mathematics, and technology education, particularly at the K-13 level, and the general elevation of scientific and technological literacy throughout the country.

 OSS will continue to support the education and training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in space science in order to create the talented scientific workforce needed for the 21st century. OSS will expand its efforts in support of the education and training of undergraduate students.

 OSS will promote the involvement of women, underrepresented minorities, and students with disabilities in its educational programs and their participation in space science research and development activities.

 OSS will facilitate and cultivate strong and lasting partnerships on local, regional, and national scales between the space science research and development communities and the professional communities in science, mathematics, and technology education.

Summary – Current State of Knowledge

NASA has identified and outlined topics of current importance that are common to all of its E/PO programs, including those of the OSS. The current position of the NASA OSS Solar System Exploration for E/PO places emphasis on:

 Engaging its community of planetary scientists in education and public outreach activities

 Inclusion of minorities, traditionally underrepresented groups, women and the disabled

 Development of partnerships with groups and organizations outside of NASA

 Improving access of scientist and educators to resources for E/PO


Key issues which this panel believes need to be addressed in the next decade include items both from those that have been previously identified (as noted in the Background and Perspective section of this report) as well as others that have been seen to require new emphasis based on recent changes in both science and education. Some of these issues are very general, and apply to all E/PO endeavors, and some are tightly focussed to the programs and needs of the OSS.

The major issues identified by this panel are:

1. Scientist Involvement: The need for more effective and widespread involvement of planetary science professionals in E/PO activities. This requires addressing several topics:

 Eliminating Elitism

 Limited Roles for Scientist Involvement

 Validation of E/PO for Scientists

 Improve Funding Cycles

2. Public Relations: The perceived conflict in NASA between E/PO and public relations

3. Mission Centered Funding: Problems with funding E/PO activities from a mission-centered perspective.

4. Access to Resources: Access to resources for EPO for scientists, educators and partner organizations.

5. Underrepresented Groups: Reaching traditionally underrepresented groups, women, minorities, and the disabled.

6. Communication: Need more communication between branches, alternative approaches.

Scientist Involvement

Getting scientists involved *effectively* in E/PO activities is one of the most important issues that must be addressed in the next ten years. This is a highly complex topic as current paradigms, programs, and approaches to scientist involvement are all in need of change in order to improve the level of involvement of planetary scientists in E/PO activities. We attempt here to mention some of the key points that we have identified as critical to improving scientist involvement.

Eliminating Elitism

Scientific Elitism, in its many forms, is the basis of the current paradigm that separates scientists from more personal and effective involvement in E/PO activities. What follows is a stereotypical description of the current paradigm, but the overall impression it provides is accurate. From the scientist perspective, science is the pinnacle of learning. Other professions and disciplines are often looked down upon, even to the point of individual scientific sub-disciplines within planetary science looking askance at one another (atmospheres, interiors, dynamics, etc.); each generally convinced of the purity and superiority of their area. The mindset has been one of tenured faculty taking on apprentice graduate students, and then in due time producing a ‘clone’ of the mentor who continues working in the same area and who, of course obtains the same tenured faculty position at a university. This outmoded way of thinking needs to be changed. While this was an accurate model of the development of the mentor/student relationship 30 years ago, it is no longer at all true. The mindset includes the idea that other pursuits such as education and public outreach are ‘lesser’ and a waste of time, and those involved in these endeavors are also somehow lesser because they could not ‘cut it’ to go into science. The mindset propagates into the perception of how the scientist is to relate to the public. The public is viewed as simple, uneducated and lacking in critical thinking skills. It is not generally viewed as the client or end consumer of what the scientist produces. This elitism also makes any synergistic communication with the education community problematic at best. Eliminating this ineffective, unrealistic, and isolationist paradigm is a critical issue which needs to be addressed.

Limited Roles for Scientist Involvement

At present there is a perception that there are a small number of acceptable ways for a scientist to be involved in E/PO, such as teaching a formal class or giving a public talk. Many scientists do not want to be involved in E/PO because they are not good at teaching or talking. They therefore avoid E/PO activities.

Validation of E/PO for Scientists

One of the contributing factors to Elitism is the fact that E/PO activities for scientists are not validated and rewarded. The scientific culture of ‘publish or perish’ leaves little room for time to be spent on E/PO. Any amount of time spent on an area that is not perceived to further one’s career or that does not directly contribute to one’s livelihood is not surprisingly considered a poor use of time. Culturally, scientists did not go into their field as a public service. In order to change the view of scientists, the organizations that employ and fund them must also change their paradigm to view E/PO as necessary and valuable, and reward scientists for their involvement.

Improve Funding Cycles

The means whereby E/PO is funded is not amenable to easy scientist involvement. Most scientists are funded in a ‘soft money’ situation. In order for funding to be useful it must be of a significant amount and time span. The attachment of E/PO proposals to science proposals through the OSS is a frustrating enterprise. The E/PO is an afterthought because it is rarely funded, even when scientists receive excellent reviews for their E/PO proposals. It is no longer viewed as a good use of time to submit such proposals at all. The mission funding cycles are also not realistically thought out. E/PO for the missions are initiated as much as ten years in advance of a mission returning any data at all. The requirement that some funds be allocated for E/PO for each funded mission is not well thought out, and presents impediments for more than a small number of scientists to be constructively involved.

Public Relations

There is a perceived conflict between how NASA views E/PO and how it views public outreach. These are not the same thing, although there can be overlap in areas such as press releases, press conferences, etc. In many cases areas that at first were approached by NASA as venues for E/PO turn into public relations activities. Promoting astronauts or space activities by distributing pictures and posters is not science education.

Mission Centered Funding

The idea of attaching education to major programs has many problems, one being that the focus is not on what the students (and teachers) need or want. The focus is on the major program, and then trying to see if there is some vaguely educational direction that can be tagged on. Consideration of what meets education needs and standards is often secondary or even tertiary. In particular this approach does not allow for education standards to be incorporated into E/PO products generated by missions or proposals centered on science research.

Access to Resources

Particularly as related to the internet, the concept of “data” storage appears to be very important. “Data” in this context could mean actual science data, but more to the point would be lesson plans, laboratory writeups, reports, etc. that could be of use to educators. While many repositories for such data exist now, NASA does not have a straightforward and all encompassing site for such information. Educators become confused when presented with the myriad of options available on the internet, and the data on such sites is not often evaluated by scientists to be sure it is factually accurate.

Underrepresented Groups

Further work needs to be done to assure that women, minorities, and the disabled have equal access and are being effectively reached at all levels by science education endeavors. Also of note are the financially disadvantaged. With the advent of home computers and the internet in the last few decades, science education has a new and powerful arena in which to operate. However there is a large subset of the population that cannot be reached in this fashion because they have little or no access to computers.


This includes educator-scientist communication (as already mentioned), communication between different E/PO areas within NASA, and the development of partnerships with institutes, colleges, and museums. Communication is important because it allows for the free flow of information from one group to another so time is not wasted developing resources that exist elsewhere. It also allows for fruitful collaborations to be created which can stretch budget dollars further for all organizations involved.


Scientist Involvement

Scientists must view involvement in E/PO as a means for furthering their career. They need to recognize that this is an integral part of every scientist’s job, particularly those that are being funded from public money. This may require a redefinition or rethinking of what E/PO is for scientists and how they are rewarded for this activity. Innovative ways must be identified and implemented to reward and encourage scientists for active involvement in E/PO. Ideas must be collected about how the culture can be encouraged to change and evolve. E/PO activities must carry as much prestige for scientists as research does. The home institutions of scientists like universities, institutes, centers, etc., must recognize, require, and reward E/PO involvement.

This panel recommends that NASA OSS convene a group of scientists and educators to specifically address these issues. NASA should allocate a specific amount of funds to both fund the group and to carry out their imperatives. Questions they should ask are what would it take to change the way scientists feel about education, where should the culture be going, and what is NASA’s overall vision for continued communication between the education and scientist communities.

Additionally, NASA OSS should recognize that there are a suite of possibilities for scientist involvement in E/PO other than classes and talks. Education and outreach can be targeted for each scientist according to their strengths. Those who have abilities with the web could be called upon to help evaluate and post content to education websites. For those who do well mentoring students, opportunities (such as Space Grant) should be provided for matching students with prospective scientist mentors. For those who are good writers, education pamphlets or even books for public consumption could be an approved E/PO activity. Further study into more flexible avenues for scientist involvement will result in more scientists being interested in these opportunities rather than turned off or intimidated by them.

NASA should carefully examine how funding cycles impact the desire of scientists to participate in education and outreach. Understanding that the vast majority of scientists are NOT hard money, but instead live grant-to-grant will promote a more friendly and workable environment for scientists to be involved and active in E/PO.

Public Relations

NASA OSS should specifically define the goals for public relations and E/PO. Particularly when initiating a new mission activity, the public relations goals and budget, and the E/PO goals and budget should be set out clearly and separately. The E/PO goals must be centered on what educators and students need, not from a scientist or mission oriented perspective.

Mission Centered Funding

NASA OSS must understand its major project/mission goals versus education and outreach goals. NASA OSS should revisit their position on education as stated briefly in the beginning of this report. The needs of students and teachers for a useful end product should be the top priority of E/PO. Having each E/PO activity directly based to specific missions may not best suit this purpose. NASA OSS should consider funding the bulk of E/PO activities independent of missions and proposals to lessen the possibility for conflict.

Access to Resources

NASA should present one very easy to find and navigate site (or modify an existing sit) for use as a clearinghouse by educators. The content of such a site could be synthesized and evaluated by a special group of educators and scientists, and might be drawn from current NASA programs, books, other sites, etc. This site would be focused on the needs of educators, moderated by both a scientist (for technical accuracy) and an educator (for educational accuracy and appropriateness). It would provide ready links for scientists so that endeavors like MOSIE (Menu of Opportunities for Scientists in Education Space Scientist Inst.) will be useful for them. The Educational moderator of the general web site would also collect information and comments from users of the site as to how the site could be improved and how it should change and evolve to meet the needs of students and educators. The information that resides in the repository could include duplicate content available elsewhere (with permission). The purpose of this site would be to create one point which all educators could turn to in order to find space science related resources and materials that are in some way related to NASA and its mission. NASA OSS should consider coordinating this effort with the nascent Digital Library for Science, Math, Engineering and Technology projects going on around the country. So the key framework would be: educator focused, moderated accuracy of content, and continually evolving from educator feedback.

Underrepresented Groups

All NASA programs have mentioned the need to reach out to underrepresented groups. This should persist as a priority. Special programs should be continued and augmented to help reach women and minorities. Programs for the disabled have been the most lacking, and a great deal more can be done here to reach this population with science education. For the financially disadvantaged, computer access is a major issue. For this group it is likely that television is still one of the best ways to reach and teach. This should be examined more closely, and television should not be dismissed as “old hat” as compared to internet-based teaching, but instead each should be evaluated for their particular strengths in education and employed on that basis.


An emphasis should be placed on devising and initiating new approaches to working with the education community and to bringing the results of our programs to the public. This should include a priority to expand partnerships with colleges, universities, and K-12. Of note are community colleges, who educate vast numbers of first and second year college students, but have not acquired the same amount of importance as traditional four year universities. Creating useful programs for educators requires an understanding of their needs based on their audience and their general experiences.

The strongest and most long-lasting leverage of existing groups may come from working with the pre-service teachers (teachers in training) and finding ways to understand what their needs are, especially for K-6 teachers whose content domain spans the entire universe of topics. This requires both work with content courses and the methods courses in our Schools/Colleges of Education. It is important to note that such educators may be limited in their interactions by rigid state rules for teacher accreditation that make change a challenge.

K-12 teachers in particular need to be involved early and at all stages of planning new programs. Any activity that does not respect their knowledge, ability and experience is unlikely to succeed in the long term. The projects that bring these teachers in as partners from the outset have the best chance of being successful. NASA OSS should therefore acquire K-12 teacher input on new plans and activities, as well as this white paper.

It is important that time not be spent re-inventing the wheel when it comes to E/PO. The best means of doing this, and to generate more at lower cost is to better utilize existing programs within NASA (NASA Space Grant program, EPSCoR (NASA and other agencies), Solar System Ambassadors, Solar System Educators, OSS Broker and Facilitator, NASA’s Educator Resource Center network) as well as state-based organizations including the NSF/ED Systemic Initiative, the National Alliance of State Science and Mathematics Coalitions, the Aerospace States Association, the National Aerospace Education Alliance, the Space Grant Directors Council, the Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics, the Council of State Science Supervisors, and relevant education associations (NSTA, NCTM, ITEA, ASEE, USRA, and GENIP) and the NASA OSS. This will require continued emphasis on communication and partnership building. Further communication should be developed to promote and utilize NASA on-line educational resources such as NASA Spacelink, NASA Television, and the NASA Learning Technologies Project.

NASA should sponsor a national meeting bringing scientists, educators, and folks that work with both populations (science educators, educational technology types, Planetary Society, ASP) to brainstorm a strategic plan for how NASA can achieve the greatest impact for its investment. DPS members could be called upon to provide a leadership role in such a meeting. NASA OSS should be sure that the ‘informal education’ folks (science centers, museums, planetariums, etc.) are well-represented at such a meeting, and in offering input on new initiatives and programs that influence them.


It is clear that a consistent, reliable source of funding is the most important factor in maintaining the programs, partnerships and resources developed during the next ten years. Excellent web sites have been developed using NASA funding, but in spite of overwhelmingly positive feedback, funding was eventually dropped (see Volcano World). Web sites need constant upkeep and maintenance, or the investment originally placed to create them can become lost. When NASA agrees that the creation of a resource, such as a web site, is in order, then NASA should commit the funds for both the development and maintenance of that resource.

There is interest and demand for a variety of products from straight public relations shots to lesson plans to original data, however there is little market for it. Any steps suggested or taken by NASA OSS need to have some method of support that does not involve schools buying products or subscriptions, the funds for such transactions are simply not there. NASA will be required to support such initiatives on its own.

Any plans for change, new programs, activities and initiatives taken by the NASA OSS should be emphasized and targeted for the long term. Reform ‘fads’ are ineffective and waste time and money. That is why the recommendations in the communication section are so important. Any new programs which are not practical and useful will eventually disappear. Teachers and other educators will just wait out changes they think are ill-advised, or have had no input on until they pass (the half-life seems to be about 5 years).

Panel consider – What baseline knowledge and capabilities need to be maintained / created / expanded to ensure activities beyond the next decade in the Education and Outreach? How can we develop and improve lines of communication with educators? How can we stay abreast of the needs of students and plan to be flexible to meet their changing needs?


Panel Consider – This is where NASA wants to know how our area affects their major program: ‘Discuss (if applicable) how your topic and recommendations and underlying capabilities can play a role in the future of human space activities.’ Identify and discuss associated data archive and access issues. In our case this would be any and all education and outreach materials that are generated by different science or educational programs (slides, books, handouts, use of educational laboratories and telescopes, data for websites, databases, etc. etc.) Other panels are being asked here ‘Identify and discuss potential education and public outreach efforts enabled. Assess current E/PO activities in this area.’ We should be aware that this is the paradigm (that what is being generated by science programs drive contact with educators, instead of what educators need being assessed and THEN seeing what can be done to fill those needs, by using available programs or generating new ones). *We* do not need to operate within this paradigm.


‘OSS E/PO Annual Report FY 2001’ ed. Philip Sakimoto, NASA

OSS E/PO Strategic Plan, “Partners in Education: A Strategy for Integrating Education and Public Outreach into NASA’s Space Science Programs”

‘NASA Strategic Plan’ and other Plans –

“Education and Human Resources in the FY 2002 Budget” by Jolene K. Jesse, AAAS

Chapter 8 of the National Science Foundation’s ‘Science and Engineering Indicators 2000,’

National education standards –

NASA Education Website –

NASA Space Science Education directory –

NASA Space Science Education page –



SpaceRef staff editor.