In late 2005, I heard about the JPL Solar System Ambassadors Program, which is a volunteer educational outreach program sponsored by NASA. Its purpose is to bring information about NASA's space exploration projects to local communities, with presentations at schools, museums, star parties, scouting organizations, and the like. It sounded pretty cool to me, and I wanted to sign up, but applications are accepted only in September for the following calendar year, so I missed it for 2006. I applied this past September and was accepted in December for the 2007 calendar year.
Tonight I participated in the new ambassador orientation training, a telephone conference supplemented by downloaded PowerPoint presentations. This makes me somewhat official, although there is still an ethics presentation that's required before I can begin to do events on my own. I'm fortunate that there are already three JPL Ambassadors in Central Massachusetts (my bio is on line, but they haven't updated the maps yet), all of whom are also members of the Aldrich Astronomical Society, which I recently joined myself. This means I'll be able to learn the ropes on some shared events before organizing some on my own.
I love talking about space and astronomy (ya think?), so this is a fun thing for me. I've already helped out with a couple of Aldrich club events, one with middle school kids (age ~11) and the other with Cub Scouts (ages 6-10). I talked about the space shuttle (which was up for the Cubs' event) and the Hubble Space Telescope, demonstrating them with the help of Orbiter. I also gave the kids a quick tour of what they would be seeing in the telescopes outside with the help of Stellarium. Kids of these ages are eager to ask and answer questions and they still seem to think this stuff is pretty cool. So do I!
If you're in Massachusetts and would like to invite a Solar System Ambassador to give a free presentation about space exploration at your school or other organization, contact me or one of the other Massachusetts ambassadors. You can also check this calendar to see if any SSA events are scheduled in your area, or check the U.S. map and contact an ambassador near you to arrange something.