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
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 most. As for myself, I have presentations about Mars
Exploration, Infrared Astronomy, General solar system, and the Hubble Space Telescope.
Along with presentations 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.
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.
Currently there are 628 ambassadors (2015) and 29 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