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UNH Space Scientists Reach Out to the Public
DURHAM, N.H. -- When scientists at the University of New Hampshire work with the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) on a mission, public outreach and education is an integral part of the deal.

Take, for example, one project currently underway at the Space Science Center (SSC) in the university's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS). Scientists, engineers and technicians are in the flight assembly stage of building two identical instruments for the Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory or STEREO. The instruments were designed and are being fabricated at the SSC.

The instruments, called PLASTIC for the Plasma and Suprathermal Ion Composition Investigation, will be delivered to NASA later this year, says Antoinette Galvin, lead scientist for the UNH effort. The $11 million contract includes $150,000 in education and public outreach funds, which, among other things, UNH-STEREO is using to help sponsor the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium's "Spacetacular Saturday" to be held in Concord May 1 from 1 to 9 p.m.

"NASA recognizes that in order to achieve the technical successes they're noted for they have to have a well-educated public and a pipeline of future engineers and scientists for the next generation of missions," Galvin says.

Over the past eight years, NASA has implemented what it characterizes as being perhaps "the largest single program in astronomy and space science education ever undertaken." In 2002, NASA invested more than $35 million in its education and public outreach program.

"It's a way for NASA to go through its principle investigators and reach beyond the university. It's good for us and it's good for the community," Galvin says.

UNH-STEREO is also putting outreach money towards Project SMART (Science and Mathematics Achievement through Research Training - a NH Space Grant Consortium program for high school students), development of software for a radio telescope located at EOS (data from which will eventually be accessible in real-time to classrooms around the state), and other McAuliffe planetarium programs. Other UNH-NASA missions contribute outreach money in similar fashion.

STEREO is the third mission in NASA's Solar Terrestrial Probes program, scheduled to launch in February 2006 aboard a single Delta II rocket. This two-year mission will employ two nearly identical space-based observatories to provide the first-ever 3-D stereoscopic images to study the nature of the Sun's coronal mass ejections or CMEs.

The PLASTIC experiment will provide plasma characteristics of protons, alpha particles and heavy ions. PLASTIC is the primary sensor on STEREO for studying the processes between the corona and solar wind, and between solar wind and the heliosphere. The heliosphere is the region of space through which the solar wind extends.

For more information on the planetarium's Spacetacular Saturday, visit For more information on the UNH STEREO-PLASTIC mission, visit

David Sims
Science Writer
Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space