Carrillo appointed planetary envoy

Challenger Learning Center staffers reach for the stars

Posted: Thursday, January 03, 2002

Attention Earthlings: Rob Carrillo has been chosen as a Solar System Ambassador.

Carrillo, the assistant flight director at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, got the word a few days ago. He described it as a pleasant surprise and said he has yet to read all the fine print.

"It's a good honor," he said.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., began the ambassador program five years ago to expand public awareness of planetary exploration. The JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and a lead research and development center for NASA, including work on planetary probes.

"The ambassadorship focuses on the solar system and the JPL's interest in learning about it," he said.

For example, some recent information comes from the Mars Odyssey spacecraft and the Genesis mission to collect particles of the solar wind and bring them back to Earth.

The volunteer ambassadors propose four educational public events based on the latest in planetary science.

Carrillo plans to make presentations about the changing seasons on Earth, Mars and other planets, and how they tie into the solar cycles of equinoxes and solstices. They are likely to involve aspects such as solar physics and the aurora borealis, he said.

Nationwide, the ambassadors run events such as star parties, lectures, community displays, musical presentations and library appearances. JPL provides them with special training opportunities, including question-and-answer sessions with leaders of interplanetary missions. It also supplies materials such as the latest pictures from JPL-managed spacecraft orbiting Mars and Jupiter, according to the JPL's announcement of the appointments.

In 2001, 206 Solar System Ambassadors in 48 states organized more than 960 presentations, reaching millions of people. In 2002, the program will reach all 50 states for the first time, it said.

Carrillo said his boss, outgoing Challenger Center flight director Daniela Martian, gave him the information about the program and suggested he apply. He praised her for encouraging him and others at the center to reach out and pursue opportunities.

He said he felt applying was a long shot, and he did not expect to be chosen.

Now he needs to juggle the schedule of events at the Challenger Center to figure out when he can stage the events.

The Challenger Center will be building an addition this year and hosting a full schedule of school tours and summer camps.

"I know it's going to be a busy year," he said. "... I want to do my best."

Carrillo is originally from Los Angeles and studied sports physiology in college. Since coming to Alaska, he has worked in environmental education with the National Park Service and at the Imaginarium in Anchorage before joining the space science education center in Kenai. He said his background in human biology translates well into learning about subjects such as astronomy and planetary geology.

"Science is applicable anywhere," he said.

Alaska's other ambassadors are Scott Girard of Chugiak, Martin Gutoski of Fairbanks and Carolyn Stallings of Ketchikan.

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