Become an OSIRIS-REx Ambassador

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A guest blog by Dolores Hill

OSIRIS-REx Ambassadors Bliss, Jack Monahans, Alan Strauss (also Director of the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter), Dolores Hill, and LuAnn Kidd surround the famous Fukang pallasite meteorite during the International Meteorite Collectors Meeting at the OSIRIS-REx Mission Operation Center. (The spectacular meteorite is owned by Marvin Killgore). // Rik Hill
Who in the world would spend their free time talking to the public about the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-Rex) mission and asteroids? OSIRIS-REx Ambassador volunteers and OSIRIS-REx team members, that’s who! We have a terrific group of volunteers who staff tables at public events such as the University of Arizona’s College of Science Lecture Series where the mission’s Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta was a featured speaker, or at 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.

I am honored to work with both Ambassadors and team members who are immersed in the mission. I love sharing with the public the OSIRIS-REx story as it unfolds as well as news about asteroids and meteorites.

Cat Merrill from OCAMS talks to an enthralled young visitor about the mission. // Melodye Farmer
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.

For Brenda Huettner and LuAnn Kidd, it’s a real family affair. Both 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 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 Principal Investigator 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.

New OSIRIS-REx Ambassador Pat Vega gets to meet OSIRIS-REx PI, Dante Lauretta, during the Tucson Festival of Books. // Dolores Hill
One of our largest events of the year is the huge Tucson Festival of Books. Taking place in March, it draws more than 130,000 visitors over two days. It’s “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 the 2015 Tucson Festival of Books was a great success by any measure. We had 12 presenters during the two days with a good mixture of Ambassadors and OSIRIS-REx staff. Even Lauretta stopped by. We all had great fun engaging the public with new activities. The tables were surrounded by visitors excited about the OSIRIS-REx mission and interested in all things asteroid.

Comet-making at the library. The Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has valuable lessons for the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. // Rik Hill and Dyer Lytle
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 European Space Agency Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, NASA’s Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres, and JAXA’s Hayabusa 2 mission to asteroid 1999 JU3. The Ambassador team developed new activities to help convey these topics.

In certain settings, Ambassadors lead kids and adults through comet-making exercises. As the carbon dioxide ice starts to sublimate, 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 creation a little easier.

Because I have spent many years analyzing meteorites, meteorite activities for classrooms and public events are especially fun. Ambassadors explain that meteorites are directly related to the OSIRIS-REx mission. Meteorites help us learn 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, 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.

Ambassadors in the making? We think so! Repeat visitors Peter and Jack McDougall pose with their favorite meteorite at the Tucson Festival of Books. // Melodye Farmer
While most events take place in the Tucson area, they are not limited to Arizona. For example, Ambassador Brenda Huettner joined the NASA booth at the famous South by Southwest event in Austin, and Dr. Jason Dworkin of Goddard Space Flight Center gives presentations as an Ambassador in the eastern U.S. Because the training is online, 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! The program has online and local training sessions throughout the year. Contact us to sign up and get started as an ambassador!

To leave a comment you must be a member of our community.
Login to your account now, or register for an account to start participating.
No one has commented yet.
Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.


Receive news, sky-event information, observing tips, and more from Astronomy's weekly email newsletter. View our Privacy Policy.

Find us on Facebook