Program Strategy

SMD plays an essential role in NASA’s Strategic Education Framework to “inspire, engage, educate and employ”. The discoveries and knowledge generated by NASA science missions and research programs consistently engage the public, inform teachers, and excite students. Using programmatic tools and resources, SMD is building strategic educational and public outreach partnerships to enhance the Nation’s formal education system and contribute to the broad public understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). SMD’s Education Program sponsors both formal and informal educational opportunities that promote STEM literacy through the dissemination and application of unique NASA resources.

The NASA Science Mission Directorate’s vision for Education and Public Outreach is:
To share the story, the science, and the adventure of NASA’s scientific explorations of our home planet, the solar system, and the universe beyond, through stimulating and informative activities and experiences created by experts, delivered effectively and efficiently to learners of many backgrounds via proven conduits, thus providing a direct return on the public’s investment in NASA’s scientific research.
NASA’s science content is unique among federal agencies. It provides an inspirational spark to seek out and engage in the exciting education and outreach opportunities that NASA offers to learn about new science discoveries and to acquire new skills in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics.
E/PO Implementation Approach
SMD’s E/PO projects share the results of our missions and research to audiences through a portfolio of investments (E/PO projects) in Higher Education, Elementary and Secondary Education, Informal Education, and Outreach. These E/PO projects aim to attract and retain students in STEM disciplines by energizing science teaching and learning. In addition, E/PO projects promote inclusiveness and provide opportunities for minorities, students with disabilities, minority universities, and other target groups to compete for and participate in science missions, research, and education programs. The combined emphasis on precollege/pre-workforce education, diversity, and increasing the general public’s understanding and appreciation of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics encompass all three major educational goals.

SMD integrally incorporates E/PO into its programs primarily through two means. One method is to embed E/PO projects in its flight programs or missions.  SMD policy calls for each mission to allocate at least 1% of the mission budget for education and public outreach activities. E/PO plans are developed during the early mission phases and subjected to thorough review and approval processes. It is treated as though it were a mission subsystem. The other method is to support E/PO projects through awards for solicited or unsolicited proposals; or as elements of a major research-enabling program (e.g., suborbital science, science instrumentation, data and information systems, etc.). SMD offers multiple proposal opportunities for education and outreach efforts as part of the annual competitive solicitations. Science mission researchers and other personnel are particularly encouraged to become active participants in education and outreach activities. Education materials and products from SMD projects are peer reviewed and approved by educators and scientists prior to distribution. SMD works closely with the Office of Education to ensure that projects address agency objectives and end–user needs.

A prime focus remains on identifying and meeting the needs of educators and on emphasizing the unique contribution NASA science can make to education and to the public’s understanding of science. To assist educators in preparing NASA’s future workforce, many professional development opportunities are available that are firmly rooted in the science and technology of NASA missions.
Collaboration is key to building nationwide programs that contribute to improving teaching and learning at the precollege level and to increasing the scientific literacy of the general public. The Directorate achieves this leverage in pre-college education by building on existing programs, institutions, and infrastructure and by coordinating activities and encouraging partnerships with other ongoing education efforts both within and external to NASA. Informal education alliances are well established through the NASA Museum Alliance for science centers, museums, and planetariums, as well as public radio and television program producers. SMD works to enrich the STEM education efforts of community groups such as the Girl Scouts, 4-H Clubs, and the Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs of America. The strength of each of these partnerships relies on the combination of the science-content knowledge and expertise of the SMD and the educational expertise and context of each partner.

Management of the SMD E/PO portfolio is the responsibility of the SMD E/PO Lead and Division E/PO Leads in each of the four Science Divisions. Each Division has a Science Education and Public Outreach Forum (SEPOF) that collaborates with NASA and external science and education and outreach communities in E/PO to assist SMD in increasing the overall coherence of the E/PO program leading to more effective, sustainable, and efficient utilization of SMD science discoveries and learning experiences.

• The Astrophysics Forum is led by the Space Telescope Science Institute;
• The Earth Science Forum is led by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies;
• The Heliophysics Forum is led by the Space Science Lab of the University of California, Berkeley;
• The Planetary Science Forum is led by the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

See the Program Strategy Archives for earlier information.