About me and the Solar System Ambassadors program
I have been part of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Solar System Ambassador program since
2002 and I find that there is misunderstanding and confusion about it from many people.
How can someone be an ambassador to (or from) the Solar System? Where is our
A JPL-SSA is a volunteer. I would like to emphasize volunteer because it is not generally
understood that this is a fully volunteer endeavor. There is no compensation of any kind
from JPL, NASA or any tax dollars. Likewise the ambassadors can not ask for or accept
compensation from any organization that they give presentations to (with some exceptions).
You may wonder why then would someone want to become an SSA. The main motivation
is a desire to share your interest and excitement of space exploration with others. You
certainly can volunteer to do this without becoming part of the ambassador program. The
advantage, however, is that as a member of this group you are invited to attend
teleconferences with the people at JPL and other NASA divisions to learn about past,
present and future explorations.
The requirements of a Solar System Ambassador are to attend a yearly ethics
teleconference and present to the public at least 4 times per year. Many ambassadors find
that it is no problem finding venues to vent their enthusiasm and fulfill their obligation. We
also field some difficult questions, not only about specific missions, but about NASA and the
value of the space program in general. The public has many misconceptions about the US
space program and the universe around them. Our job is to correct these misconceptions
as well as inform about the exciting events happening in astronomy and space exploration.
We are also local media contacts about NASA programs. Ambassadors cannot, and are
not, expected to know everything about all facets of NASA, JPL, or the missions. Generally
we try to know a little about everything, but tend to focus on the area(s) that interests us
As for myself, I have been a planetarium manager, educator/astronomer at a public
observatory and astronomy instructor at a community college. I have presentations
available and I have also created displays and posters which are also methods we use to
inform the public. Posters I have created have also been used by the Mars team at Cornell
for outreach programs. I have also created a Deep Space Network antenna model for
JPL/DSN here: DSN Model
The Solar System Ambassador program is run by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, California. JPL is a division of California Institute of Technology and a research
and development center for NASA.
There are hundreds of ambassadors and about 30 of them are in New York State. We don’t
have an embassy, limo, bodyguard, secretary, or diplomatic immunity that might be
expected of an ambassador. And, I doubt we would be called upon if invaded by aliens!
What we do have is enthusiasm about our role to bring the excitement of space exploration
to the people of our planet.
Learn more about the JPL Solar System Ambassadors program at