April 24, 2013
Washington DC – The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) expresses its strong concern over a proposal to strip the highly successful education and public outreach (EPO) programs for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from within NASA's science mission projects, to be handed over to other federal agencies. The AURA Board of Directors adopted the following statement regarding the proposed reorganization of STEM outreach at NASA.
"Astronomy and space research have long been recognized as magnets for engaging students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields that the Administration has designated as priorities for the nation’s future workforce. The most direct way to share the excitement of STEM fields across all populations is through personal interactions with scientists and their discoveries. AURA holds that NASA's mission-led and mission-based EPO programs fulfill this mandate, and should remain within NASA.
NASA's mission-related EPO programs uniquely embed working space scientists within a wide range of activities that engage and educate students as well as the public. The Hubble Space Telescope EPO program is one of the best in the world. Hubble's outreach team -- embedded deeply within the mission -- includes a full range of expertise: scientists, educators, communicators, illustrators and technical specialists. The Hubble team creates comprehensive programs that link scientists across the nation with diverse audiences, all based on Hubble science that is ground-breaking in its scope and breath-taking in its beauty. Hubble reaches into schools in all 50 states, touching over a half million teachers and six million students per year in the US alone and many more worldwide. The Hubble team also works with NASA's next top priority science mission, the James Webb Space Telescope, creating both formal and informal EPO activities to build the next generation of scientists and engineers.
Regarding the Administration's proposed reorganization of STEM education, AURA strongly recommends preservation of the vital direct links among NASA-funded missions, scientists, educators, students and the public. EPO programs for major NASA missions should remain within the missions and within the NASA Science Mission Directorate."
Dr. William Smith, President of AURA, urged, "NASA, Congress, and the public would be best served by maintaining the strong role played by the Hubble Space Telescope's EPO team, as well as other NASA mission EPO teams." Dr. Dan Clemens of Boston University and the Chair of the AURA Board of Directors echoed many of the AURA Member Representatives at a recent AURA Annual Meeting, who asked, "Why dismantle one of the most successful outreach and education programs, tied to NASA's most visible and highly lauded space mission, only to distribute it across multiple, separate agencies? How can this boost efficiency of delivery?"
AURA, a consortium of 39 universities and institutions in the United States and 9 international affiliates, operates the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD on behalf of NASA. It also operates the Gemini Observatory, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, the National Solar Observatory, and the construction project for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, all of which are NSF-funded or NSF-partnered ground-based telescopic facilities and all of which have significant investments in EPO efforts in STEM fields.