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Cassini Essay Contest

Begun in 2002 and slated to conclude in 2017, the Cassini Education and Public Outreach Program engages learners of all ages in the excitement of space exploration and the wonder and discoveries within our outer solar system – and within the Saturn system. Over its lifetime, Cassini has reached hundreds of thousands of educators and millions of students, and several million members of the general public across the nation.

More about Cassini can be found at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov


Science Mission:

Cassini completed its initial four-year mission to explore the Saturn System in June 2008 and the first extended mission, called the Cassini Equinox Mission, in September 2010. Now, the healthy spacecraft is seeking to make exciting new discoveries in a second extended mission called the Cassini Solstice Mission, which goes through September 2017. Launched in 1997, Cassini's 12 science instruments have returned a daily stream of data from Saturn's system since arriving at Saturn in 2004. Among the most important targets of the mission are the moons Titan – a possible analog for early Earth, and Enceladus – with Yellowstone-like geysers fed by reservoirs of liquid water, as well as some of Saturn’s other icy moons. Toward the end of the mission, Cassini will make closer studies of the planet and its rings.

Education and Public Outreach Mission and Approach:

Cassini EPO still follows its original EPO plan, with the overall vision contributing to the advancement of our nation’s excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for the benefit of society.

To successfully implement this strategy, Cassini EPO takes advantage of emerging opportunities and works to create thematic products, to engage students to “learn science by doing science” and to create products that will have longevity beyond Cassini, in support of SMD planetary and outer planets EPO for the benefit of educators and students and to ensure good stewardship of taxpayer funds.

Research into classroom needs showed that over 40% of U. S. students beyond the 5th grade work at two or more levels below their grade level and are struggling with their current materials. With current education trends, teachers are refocusing their limited resources toward language arts. Cassini EPO made a strategic decision to focus on language arts for delivery of their science and technology to classrooms.

Our evaluation is formative, allowing the team to take lessons learned and incorporate them back into products and programs to ensure they would be as useful to the target audience as possible. As an example, the language arts program called “Reading, Writing & Rings” (RWR) went through years of testing with educators and formal evaluation published in NSTA’s magazine Science and Children.

The follow-on language arts program incorporates lessons learned from RWR and the evaluation of RWR to incorporate science and technology across planetary missions, and still keep the strengths of RWR. Students still use discussion and writing for reflecting on their design processes, solutions and questions for future inquiry.

Many of the lessons recommend that students keep a written record of their ideas in a science notebook, just as real scientists and engineers do. The students can look back on their entries to see the progress they have made. Teachers can also use the notebooks to informally gauge student progress and identify problem areas.

Reading, Writing & Rings

Cassini EPO conducted a needs assessment of grade K-12 teachers and discovered that K-4 teachers teach language arts for four hours per day, and have only 45 minutes per week to teach science. As a result, the Cassini EPO team collaborated with the Bay Area Writing Project and Project FIRST (at the Space Science Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley) to develop “Reading, Writing & Rings” (RWR), a 10-chapter grade 1-2 curriculum and a 12-chapter grade 3-4 curriculum to combine science with language arts, so that teachers could teach science during their language arts time. Teacher professional development workshops on RWR have been conducted at National Science Teachers Association national and regional conferences, as well as at After-School educator conferences, International Reading Association conferences, and state science teacher conferences, reaching over 122,000 teachers. The curriculum is available in hard copy, on CD-ROM, DVD, and online. Teacher feedback on the program has been very positive.

“Reading, Writing & Rings” has been leveraged to create a solar system thematic science and language arts program called “Our Solar System Through the Eyes of Scientists”, combining the work of 16 NASA scientists and the curriculum development team who wrote RWR to target the needs of grade 1-6 students and their teachers. Through the Eyes of Scientists is available online through the NASA Solar System website: http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/educ/tteos.cfm.

“Jewel of the Solar System” is an after-school version of “Reading, Writing & Rings” that has been specifically tailored to be taught by informal educators. Training sessions for “Jewel of the Solar System” have been held in Los Angeles and New York, as well as at after-school conferences.

Cassini Scientist for a Day

For older students, in grades 5-12, Cassini EPO continues the theme of combining science with language arts, with the “Cassini Scientist for a Day” essay contest. The contest introduces students to the mission, provides Cassini scientists and engineers as role models for the students via introductory videos, and encourages students to hone their research and writing skills. Students write a 500-word persuasive essay about one of three or four possible images the Cassini spacecraft can take during dedicated EPO time donated by one of the scientists on the mission. To date, over 52,200 US students and over 5,000 students from over 50 countries have participated in the essay contest. Winners and their classes participate in video conferences with Cassini scientists to ask their space questions to NASA scientists and engineers.

Ring World DVD Series

The “Ring World” series of DVDs are flat-screen versions of planetarium shows designed to explain the Cassini mission to a general audience. Ring World was a planetarium show distributed to 200 mid-sized planetariums in 2003-2005. Ring World 2 was a DVD that provided updates to the Ring World planetarium show to reflect the 2004 arrival at Saturn, the Huygens probe descent to Titan, and the first Enceladus flyby, revealing ice geysers. Ring World 3, the final update produced in 2012, represents science and mission updates and the end-of-mission scenario. As of May 2013, 60,000 copies of the Ring World DVD have been distributed to International Planetarium Association members, Museum Alliance members, Solar System Ambassadors and Educators, and teachers across the country representing millions of viewers globally.

Additional Cassini EPO Efforts

Solar System Ambassadors have held 529 Cassini-related events, reaching 53,000 direct participants and a total of 9.88 million participants if website visits and media impressions are included. Of the direct participants who reported demographic data, 40,800 were African American, 28,000 were female, and 85 had a disability.

The Saturn Observation Campaign includes 500 amateur astronomers who show Saturn to the general public using their own telescopes. They are trained volunteers who are familiar with the Cassini mission to Saturn, and share their knowledge and passion for science with families across the country and around the world, reaching 500,000 members of the public globally since 2003.

Cassini-Huygens Analysis and Results of Mission (CHARM) Telecons are held monthly, to share recent science results with other scientists as well as with the public. Solar System Ambassadors, Solar System Educators, Museum Alliance members, NASA Speakers Bureau members, Saturn Observation Campaign members, and Cassini staff are invited to listen in on CHARM Telecons, so that they can learn about current results of the Cassini mission and pass this information along to their broad and diverse audiences nationwide. Since 2004, 82 two-hour-long presentations by 100 Cassini scientists and engineers have been conducted. CHARM Telecons can be downloaded here: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/doclib/CHARM.

The Cassini website is updated more than once daily with raw images being posted within eight hours of Earth Receive Time, and includes information about the mission, the science results, mission highlights, and all Cassini raw and “best-of” images and media releases. The Cassini mission website can be found at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov. In 2009, this website was the Official Judges Webby Award Winner for Best Science website.

Cassini printed products include Saturn posters, a Titan poster, Saturn and Titan bookmarks, trading cards, and lithographs of Saturn and its moons, as well as books and curriculum related to Cassini and Saturn. These materials are distributed at teacher professional development conferences and workshops, at Educator Resource Centers, and by mail to teachers in all 50 states, including over 250,000 children at high-poverty K-12 schools via DonorsChoose.org.

“Saturn in your Kitchen and Backyard” is a series of hands-on activities designed for students in grades 5-8 and is available for download here: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/education/EDUCATION58Program/edu58kitchen/.

The classroom activities in “Saturn in your Kitchen and Backyard” cover the following topics: Asteroids, Saturn System Science, Trajectory Activities, Spacecraft Engineering, and General Science and Math.

“Passage to a Ringed World” is a book about Saturn that was developed by the Cassini EPO team in 2000.

Cassini at Saturn Interactive Explorer (CASSIE) was developed in 2004 to show scientists and the public where the Cassini spacecraft is at any date and time within the mission, using real science, engineering, and navigation data. CASSIE was the precursor to “Eyes on the Solar System”, an online tool which shows where every NASA planetary spacecraft is at any given date and time. “Eyes on the Solar System” has been used by 3.9 million visitors, including 973,000 visits by people using it to follow along with Curiosity landing on Mars on August 5, 2012.

Cassini social media includes a Cassini Twitter account with 280,000 followers and a Facebook page started in 2013, which currently reaches 1,800 people.

NASA’s “What’s Up?” video podcasts, connecting the night sky with NASA’s missions, was created by Cassini Informal Education lead and astronomer Jane Houston Jones. Since 2007, “What’s Up?” videos have been downloaded 10 million times. These videos are used in classrooms, planetariums, museums, and by television meteorologists.

Cassini scientists give public lectures and conduct classroom visits. These are reported through the JPL Public Services Speakers Bureau.

Museum exhibits featuring Cassini spacecraft models and images taken by Cassini are in museums worldwide. The New Jersey State Museum is hosting a “Spectacular Saturn” exhibit from November 2012-June 2013.

Lead Organizations

Jet Propulsion Laboratory 

News| June 16, 2008

Students Chosen as Cassini Scientists for a Day

Four students have won the Cassini Scientist for a Day contest, with most choosing Rhea, Saturn's second-largest moon, as the best place for scientists to study using NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

Contest participants had to choose one of three target areas for Cassini's camera: Saturn's moon Enceladus, Rhea, or a section of Saturn's rings that includes the tiny moon Pan. The students had to write an essay explaining why their chosen snapshot would yield the most scientific rewards, and the winners were invited to discuss their essays with Cassini scientists via teleconference.

The essays were judged by a panel of Cassini scientists, mission planners, and the education and outreach team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

This year's winners are located in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Michigan. Their essays were chosen from 197 essays written by fifth-to-twelfth-grade students across the United States.

Michael Keefe, an eighth-grader from Scituate, Mass., and the winner in the 7th-to-8th-grade category, chose Rhea.

"A photograph of Rhea would not just give us clues about what forces are at work upon it, but also what forces have worked on other satellites," Keefe wrote in his essay.

Matt Pleatman and Noah Van Valkenburg, 11th-grade students from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and the winners in the 9th-to-12th-grade division, also chose Rhea for their joint essay, writing "What better moon to study than the one discovered by Cassini himself?"

Ben Basalik, a 6th-grade student from Collegeville, Penn., and the winner in the 5th-to-6th-grade category, chose Enceladus, Saturn's geologically active moon. Cassini has discovered Yellowstone-like geysers spewing from its surface.

"This moon is unusual because it reflects almost 100 percent of the sunlight that strikes it and although it is cold, it has many features that suggest that it is generating heat," Basalik wrote in his essay.

The next opportunity to participate in the Cassini Scientist-for-a-Day contest will be in September. More information is online at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/education/scientist/. More information on the Cassini-Huygens mission is at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.

News Media Contact

Media contacts: Carolina Martinez 818-354-9382/ Diya Chacko 818-393-5464
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

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