Many recent newspaper and magazine articles decry the state of science and technology education and the general public malaise toward these subjects in the United States. The U.S. has been the world leader in these areas in the past, and many feel that the average citizen's quality of life is proportional to the technical sophistication of a "developed" nation. The general implication is that the United States has lost or is losing its leadership role in many areas and will, therefore, be dependent on other nations to provide the technology that will improve lives.
Whether readers agree with these statements or not, it is clear that the U.S. government has put increased emphasis on improving the science skills of America's students and on raising public awareness of the value of technological leadership. NASA, in particular, has taken these goals to heart. After all, the term "rocket scientist" has often been synonymous in the public mind with the highest level of technical training and understanding. A recent directive that employee performance plans should include some aspect of education and outreach activity is indicative of the importance placed on this subject.
The Office of Space Science (OSS) at NASA Headquarters has developed a strategic plan for education and outreach designed to meet the required goals. This plan is World Wide Web (WWW)-accessible at http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/oss/edu/educov.htm. Recently, a report has been written by an OSS committee that addresses how to implement the strategic plan. Though this implementation plan is still subject to change, it does suggest the direct application of a fixed percentage of the OSS budget to education and outreach programs. The amount of money is more than has been available in the past, but not a lot in comparison to the size of the general population or even the number of students to be reached. Consequently, the plan emphasizes leverage. A few dollars must be used in ways that make a wide impact.
One of the recommendations of the plan is the establishment of education "forums" or centers of excellence dedicated to major discipline areas of interest. For example, the plan suggested that Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) be the forum for the discipline of "Sun-Earth Connections." A GSFC committee has been discussing the ways to carry this idea forward. Dr. Robert Gabrys, the GSFC education officer, has proposed the establishment of a virtual "Education Mall" on the WWW where NASA's Web sites and information relevant to Sun-Earth connections can be categorized and made available to network users. The "stores" of the mall can be dedicated to particular groups such as teachers, students, or the general public, or they could be classified by useful subject areas such as the science fair shop or the photo gallery. The store departments could be divided according to age groups such as kindergarten through third grade, fourth through sixth grade, seventh through ninth grade, etc. Existing Web sites could be classified and made available according to these categories. Where Web sites did not exist for particular subjects or age levels emphasis could be placed on building something to fill that gap.
NSSDC personnel are participating both on the committee developing the GSFC plan and in the creation of appropriate Web sites. The existing NSSDC education and outreach Web site is recognized as a prime candidate for the "mall," and the Space Science Data Operations Office Education and Outreach Committee has been one of the most active groups at GSFC to promote and coordinate educational activities in support of NASA and GSFC goals. The growing emphasis on education and outreach will strengthen this activity still more. Reader suggestions are most welcome.
This strategic plan for educational outreach for NASA HQ's Office of Space Sciences is available through the NASA Office of Space Sciences
Erin D. Gardner, firstname.lastname@example.org, (301) 286-0163
Hughes STX, Code 633, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD 20771, U.S.A.