NASA Educational Outreach on the Chopping Block

How our “Leaders”

are Failing Science Education

A few years ago I was in Southern California on Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Open House Day. I’ve been to JPL many times professionally, either covering events or as part of a science team. But, it was my first Open House, and since I had just finished working on exhibits for the von Kármán Visitor’s Center there, I wanted to see them.

Open House itself was an amazing experience. Thousands of everyday people took advantage of the weekend event to bring their families to see what NASA JPL does in planetary science, exploration, and engineering. I loved it!  And, so did just about everybody I saw there. Folks were having a great time watching prototypes of Mars rovers prance around their enclosures. They lined up to see the WF/PC 2 camera from Hubble Space Telescope. They listened to talks, got to meet scientists and astronauts, received souvenirs, and went away excited about our nation’s space program. It was a premier educational outreach event.

NASA sponsors many activities like this to help teach about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects in an informal way. It also sponsors many teacher workshops, museum alliances, and countless other activities that teach our nation’s children about important subjects in a unique and often hands-on manner. The agency has amazing outreach programs that bring the excitement of science home.

A screen shot of NASA JPL's  Open House Web site.
A screen shot of NASA JPL’s Open House Web site. Suspension of NASA outreach activities could lead to closed signs at many other institutions, as well as valuable teacher training activities in STEM subjects. Note the interest shown by the kids.

Well, that’s all coming to an end.


Because of budget sequestering and cutbacks. No more open houses at JPL, Goddard, and the other NASA centers scattered throughout the country. No more teacher training in sciences. No more support for science center outreach in small towns, educational materials for children across the country.

No more mission outreach to students and their parents. No more anything that helps teach children and their families about important topics in STEM subjects.

It’s really a damned shame. NASA, from day one, has had in its charter that it should inform and educate the American public about its work. And, for decades, NASA centers have honed their outreach and become real and amazing experts at it. And, it’s not just limited to NASA centers.

Many fantastic people work at universities and colleges, preparing the next generations of engineers, scientists, and teachers that our country will need to move ahead.  They, too, are facing program extinction and job losses, along with the many NASA outreach people who are also facing the loss of their jobs. Those jobs allow people to buy houses, clothes, groceries, shoes, toys, televisions, computers, and the other things that contributed to our economy (and the tax bases of the communities where they live). Once those jobs are gone, more NASA contractors will lose their jobs, adding even more to a quivering economy.

It’s an incredibly shortsighted decision leading to a net loss of jobs and a further blow to the economy — not just now, but in the future. My friend Pamela Gay has written very poignantly about the situation at her StarStryder Blog.  She paints the picture of the human loss, too.

These cuts could well affect my own work and business,as well as other colleagues who have companies that work in science education content. All our clients also get government funding for science education, and their budgets are bound to be affected. So, the private sector will suffer, too.

Think it won’t affect your child, your family, your town or your business? Read this list posted on Spaceref and see how widespread NASA’s outreach is, and who and what programs it will affect. Each one of those programs represents REAL people with REAL jobs performing a REAL service to all of us.

There is a proposal afoot to take all the wonderful programs that NASA has created, jerk them away from NASA and put them in the hands of government agencies not exactly prepared to do the work that NASA has been doing.  It makes no sense to take something that is working really, really well, and start over from scratch at new agencies.  Details are murky about how this will all work, but read more about that proposal in this update from the American Institute of Physics.

Most people don’t know this, but NASA receives a tiny percent of the federal budget, and it returns anywhere from 7 to 14 times back on our investment in terms of new technologies, processes, and education.  What other investment does that well and benefits SO many people? And, benefits our educational and research infrastructure now and for generations to come?

NASA inspired me as a child to study science, to look to the stars, and ultimately that interest brought me to where I am: business owner, taxpayer, well-educated, and contibuting science knowledge to my fellow citizens. Whatever it cost NASA to put out materials to educate me and millions of others has come back to the country many times in increased knowledge, jobs, and literacy.  All these citizens can tell a story of being inspired and educated by the space program and its products.

To me, cutting the NASA outreach programs is like eating up our educational seed corn, wasting the work of talented people for the sake of tax cuts for people who don’t need them. It’s the kids and teachers and families who will bear the brunt of this slashing of outreach and science education. It’s a shameful way to treat the precious asset that NASA is and what it offers to our country.

I hold our Congressional leaders first and foremost responsible for this, since they can’t seem to do their jobs properly and come up with a budget that works for all Americans.  Their partisan bickering and power grabs have forced the President to come up with cuts to all programs. And, NASA’s science education and outreach programs are suffering deeply. I would like to see our President stand up for these programs, not slash them. But he can only work with what Congress sends him and what Congress has produced is the work of D students, at best. I don’t give them an F because there are a few good folks in there fighting the good fight for all of us.

There are actions that can be taken by you, me, and anyone who wants to let our “leaders” know that such gutting of important programs is unnecessary.  My friend Pat Reiff recently passed around this list of contacts where you can make your feelings known about these cuts in NASA’s outreach programs.  If the proposed gutting of science educational outreach from NASA bothers you as much as it does me, take these actions. (I’ve already contacted my congresscritter!)

Sign the petition to repeal the sequestered funds that are cutting NASA’s public outreach and STEM programs.
It has less than 8,000 of the 92,010 signatures required. Does our country care so little about science education?

Send an email, fax, call or write your congressional representatives, with a copy to OSTP Director John Holdren. Give statistics or stories on how NASA resources have helped your students.

Send letters to:
OSTP Director John Holdren:

Check and see if your state is represented on any of these committees…

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology:
especially the subcommittee on space:

House Appropriations Committee:
Commerce, Justice, Science subcommittee:

Senate Commerce Committee:
Subcommittee on science and space:

Senate Appropriations Committee:
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies

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