The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

Hill SSA speech
The author speaks to a class as part of his Solar System Ambassador duties. (credit: T. Hill)

It’s Solar System Ambassador time!

So, you are either a person who is interested in speaking to the public about space and don’t know how to get started, or someone already discussing space with the public and looking for new material? If you meet either of these criteria, or anything in between, the Solar System Ambassador program may be for you, and now is the time to apply.

The Solar System Ambassadors program is run through the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It is a volunteer speakers group with membership throughout the country. Members are encouraged to find unique methods of informing the public about current space missions. To help, ambassadors get first-hand briefings via telecon on the latest activities from project scientists and engineers working on those missions. Access to past briefings is provided, which can be used as base material for presentations.

The program grew out of the original Galileo Ambassadors program, stood up as a way to “Bring Jupiter to the public” as the Galileo probe circled the gas giant planet. This method of delivery was successful enough that it combined with other missions inside and outside the solar system.

I am completing my first year as a Solar System Ambassador, and it is an excellent “arrow in the quiver” in my space advocacy efforts.

The only real requirements for becoming a Solar System Ambassador are a desire to talk about space and the willingness to fill out the application form. Once accepted, members are required to run four SSA events during the following calendar year, report on their events using a web-based reporting system, and listen to the briefings given on current space projects. While listening live through the phone is the best method, the materials are available online after the event, and accessing them that way counts. More information can be found in the announcement of opportunity.

If you’re interested in becoming an ambassador in 2008, you must fill out an application by September 30th. The form is rather lengthy, and it requires new applicants to have or make contacts at local newspapers, museums, planetariums, and schools. Applicants are also required to suggest four ideas they have for events in the following year.

There are certain restrictions placed on Solar System Ambassadors, however. Since they are participating in a program run by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, many of the ethics codes applied to employees of JPL apply to ambassadors as well. Ambassadors are not allowed to solicit speaker’s fees for events they report to the ambassadors. Authors are not allowed to sell copies of their books at ambassador events, either. Nuances exist, as with any ethics program, and a briefing at the beginning of each year allows new and returning ambassadors to ask questions of a JPL ethics representative.

I am completing my first year as a Solar System Ambassador, and it is an excellent “arrow in the quiver” in my space advocacy efforts. The program provides interesting content that can be used to augment space presentations that already existed, as well as some exciting new material to stand alone if needed. If you think the program is for you, it would be great to have you on the team.