Guest Blogger: Dolores Hill
Who in the world?
Who in the world would spend their free time talking to the public about the OSIRIS-REx mission and asteroids? OSIRIS-REx Ambassador volunteers and OSIRIS-REx team members! We are privileged to have a great team of volunteers who staff tables at public events such as the University of Arizona’s College of Science Lecture Series where PI Dante Lauretta was a featured speaker or the huge annual Tucson Festival of Books!
Ambassador volunteers come from all walks of life and have several things in common: they love space science, are excited about the OSIRIS-REx mission, and are thrilled to rub elbows with the team. Several OSIRIS-REx Ambassadors actually started out as NASA Solar System Ambassadors so they came with extensive training and experience adding the OSIRIS-REx mission to their repertoire.
It is great fun for Ambassadors and team members who are immersed in the mission to share this excitement and enthusiasm! I feel honored to work with both groups and I have come to delight in sharing with the public the OSIRIS-REx story as it unfolds as well as news about asteroids and meteorites!
What Do We Do?
Ambassadors provide information about NASA, The University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, which leads the mission, Goddard Space Flight Center, Lockheed Martin, and instrument partners. The program helps the OSIRIS-REx mission engage students and the public with the mission and Solar System exploration.
For Brenda Huettner and LuAnn Kidd it is a real family affair! They have children who work for the mission. Dave Acklam, Al Anzaldua, and Jack Monahans are knowledgeable fellows we count on to give explanations of technical topics. Volunteers like Bliss and Target Asteroids! observer Luis Martinez have observed asteroids in big and small telescopes so they understand the nuts and bolts of Earth-based asteroid observing. Jonna Zucarelli fills an important role in the OSIRIS-REx PI Office at the mission operations center and regularly volunteers as an Ambassador!
Science team members Carl Hergenrother (Astronomy), Ellyn Kinney-Spano (Image Processing), Cat Merrill (OCAMS), Bashar Rizk (OCAMS), and Heather Enos (PPCO) are always ready to pitch in to talk about their roles on the mission. We appreciate their willingness to squeeze us in to their busy schedules. We get to hear news “hot off the press” so to speak as OSIRIS-REx scientists, engineers, managers, and technicians share their mission stories, trials, tribulations, and successes of course!
One of our largest Ambassador events of the year is the huge Tucson Festival of Books in March that draws more than 130,000 visitors over two days! It is “all hands on deck” time as we share the OSIRIS-REx mission with visitors who have come from all over the world to meet their favorite authors and enjoy The University of Arizona. We display models of the spacecraft and Bennu and create fun hands-on experiences for all ages to help explain the goals and objectives of the mission. Last year we focused on Messages to Bennu, a program where individuals submitted their names to be engraved on chips that will be affixed to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and the Sample Return Capsule. This year we emphasized Earth-based observations of asteroids and the need for spacecraft exploration…especially OSIRIS-REx.
The OSIRIS-REx display at this year’s Tucson Festival of Books (2015) was a great success by any measure! We had 12 “active presenters” over two days with a good mixture of Ambassadors and OSIRIS-REx staff. Even OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta stopped by! We all had great fun engaging the public with new activities and enjoyed meeting and greeting each other, too. The tables were jam-packed with visitors excited about the OSIRIS-REx mission and interested in all things asteroid. We thank them so much for giving their time and energy to the mission and our home department – the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory!
Thanks go to Ambassadors David Acklam, Bliss, Heidi Huettner, Luann Kidd, Luis Martinez, Jack Monahan, Pat Vega, and OSIRIS-REx team members Ryan Bronson, Dathon Golish, Coordinator Andrea Parber, and Jonna Zucarelli.
Ambassadors also help with numerous small-scale events throughout the year. Some serve in informal settings like library demonstrations and give presentations to astronomy clubs, civic groups, and science museums. Classroom visits are high on the list as well. Because the OSIRIS-REx mission has a connection to other small bodies in the Solar System, we have opportunities to talk about current spacecraft missions in the news such as the ESA-Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the NASA-Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres, and JAXA’s Hayabusa 2 mission to asteroid 1999 JU3. The Ambassador team develops new activities to help convey the topics involved.
As you can see, Ambassadors really enjoy seeing the looks on the faces of kids (and adults) as we lead them through a comet-making exercise and the CO2 ice starts to sublimate! Just like real comets, no two are the same. The kids bring their comets around to orbit the “sun” and watch what happens. Finally they place their creation into the “Comet Hall of Fame” and position a little representation of the Philae lander onto their comet. That gesture makes saying goodbye to their “dirty snowball” creation a little easier. I must confess when I first heard about this activity I didn’t like the unrealistic proportions of ingredients. Then I made my first “comet” and now I am hooked!
Because I have spent many years analyzing meteorites, meteorite activities for classrooms and public events are especially fun. Ambassadors are able to explain that meteorites are directly related to the OSIRIS-REx mission. Meteorites help the public learn what we know so far about the origin and evolution of the Solar System and some of methods we might use to study precious samples of Bennu returned by OSIRIS-REx. Although we are certain that most of the 50,000+ meteorites in the world’s collections are fragments of asteroids (more than 678,000 asteroids are known!), for a variety of reasons, we can only match a few of them to actual parent bodies – all the more reason to return a sample from a known asteroid.
Where Do We Go?
While most events take place in the Tucson area, they are not limited to Arizona. For example, OSIRIS-REx Ambassador Brenda Huettner joined the NASA booth at the famous South x Southwest event in Austin, Texas and Dr. Jason Dworkin of Goddard Space Flight Center, gives presentations as an Ambassador in the eastern U.S. Because the training is on-line, Ambassadors can come from and serve a wide geographical area.
While no human can ride along with the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, Ambassadors hitch a ride by learning and sharing along the way. You, too, can be a part of this important endeavor to reach the asteroid frontier!
How can you become an OSIRIS-REx Ambassador?
The program has online and local training sessions throughout the year. Contact us to sign up and get started as an ambassador!