Cassini Mission


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:


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:

“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:

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: 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

“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:

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 




  • Bay Area Writing Project - Literacy Program (K-4): Dr. Carol Tateishi, Alexa Stuart and Linda Block - an affiliate of the National Writing Project, located at U.C. Berkeley, leaders in the design and implementation of content based writing programs. They helped write the Reading, Writing & Rings curriculum and “Our Solar System Through the Eyes of Scientists” curriculum, in partnership with NASA scientists.
  • Project FIRST  (Foundations in Reading Through Science and Technology) Literacy Program (K-4): University of California at Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory - Ruth Paglierani and Sally Feldman - a university-based science literacy program. They also helped write the Reading, Writing & Rings curriculum and “Our Solar System Through the Eyes of Scientists” curriculum, in partnership with NASA scientists.
  • Caltech Precollege Science Initiative (CAPSI) Literacy Program (K-4): Laurie Thompson and Pamela Aschbacher - a National Science Foundation funded science education leader in the design and implementation of elementary science education programs and science notebooks.
  • Teachers: Debi Soukup and Julie Taylor (Both are Presidential Awardees). Julie Taylor was a Presidential Awardee for Elementary Science in 2001.  She won the NSTA Distinguished Teaching Award for Middle School in 2007, NASA Group Achievement Awards in 2006 and 2008, and the Young Astronaut Teacher of the Year/American in Space Award in 1994, among many other awards and honors during her 37-year teaching career.
  • leverages Cassini resources to reach over 2,500 teachers and 250,000 students annually in all 50 states, most at Title 1 schools.




External and internal evaluators are utilized in Cassini EPO projects. Caltech Precollege Science Initiative (CAPSI) provided formal evaluation for Reading, Writing & Rings. The Cassini Scientist for a Day essay contest was evaluated using internal evaluation.



Effectiveness and Impact

Cassini EPO’s primary audience is grade K-12 teachers and students.  These students are reached via the K-4 “Reading, Writing & Rings” science and language arts program, and the grade “Cassini Scientist for a Day” essay contest for students in grades 5-12 that is held twice annually, reaching over 52,200 US students and over 5,000 students in 50 countries.

Internal evaluation of the Cassini Scientist for a Day essay contest has led to improvements in the contest over the years. The diversity of the students who enter and win the contest has increased as targeted efforts were made to include students who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields. Some teachers indicated that their English Language Learners were particularly interested in the essay contest because it gave them something real to write about.

“Reading, Writing & Rings” is featured in “Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching” (MERLOT), reaching over 43,000 faculty, staff, students, administrators, and librarians.

California State Universities use MERLOT, and support 10% of all pre-service elementary teachers nationwide.

The Cassini website’s average traffic is 250,000-300,000 unique visitors monthly, representing over 3 million unique visitors yearly. NASA solar system outreach packages have reached over 2,500 K-12 teachers 250,000 students annually, most of who are at Title 1 schools, in urban, suburban, and rural areas in all 50 states.

“I was so excited to get the items to use in my class. My students have disabilities, so pictures are one of my best teaching tools for them. We will be using this to study our solar system in class. It is so kind of you to take the time to send these items and we are so appreciative of it.  Thank you.”

Reading, Writing, & Rings (RWR) Evaluation Summary:

Caltech Preservice Science Initiative (CAPSI) Research Group
January 31, 2006: Preliminary finding of educators who used RWR in 2004 & 2005

Methods of evaluation included:

  • Data sources
    • Surveys
    • Interviews
    • Classroom observations
    • Workshop observations
  • Participants (all attended one of workshops)
    • Users
    • Non-users
  • Evaluation was performed in three different settings:
    • Regular K-6 classrooms
    • Science specialists (K-6)
    • After-school programs (K-8)
Major findings from evaluation:
  • Evaluation showed RWR provided improved attitudes toward science and reading.
  • RWR is perceived by teachers to be high quality but the current high stakes testing atmosphere in classrooms makes implementation difficult.
  • Teachers see the unit as high quality.
  • Teachers see increase in students’ positive attitudes toward science.
  • The reading booklet, "Introducing Saturn" was used by half of all teachers who were introduced to it and was very helpful.
  • Students. Teachers said their students learned science facts about Saturn, science vocabulary, and became even more enthusiastic about science than previously, and benefited from practice in writing.
  • RWR may have specific potential in motivating students, especially English language learners, to write.
Recommendations: training and support for RWR:
  • More training. Teachers would like:
    • Longer training workshops,
    • Help with planning how to use lessons with their own students,
    • Follow-up workshops after teaching part of the unit,
    • Smaller training groups, and
    • More class sets of the printed materials for teachers to take with them.
  • Sharing. Provide some method for users to share their tips, insights, ideas about using and adapting the unit, e.g. via a web site chat room or bulletin board.
  • Science specialists. Consider training more science specialists as the central instructors/users for RWR (where districts have them). Science specialists have fewer time restrictions compared to classroom teachers for teaching science. They see more students than any one classroom teacher, so JPL could train a smaller group of teachers (more intensely) and have the same or larger impact in terms of student numbers.
Ideas to improve/extend implementation:
  • Add a ‘map’ of lesson activities to specific standards.
  • Add questions that require students to seek answers through website (Saturn or NASA Solar System) so we can measure via web).
  • Offer ‘light version with few lessons clustered for specific language arts or science standards.
  • Offer Introducing Saturn at other reading levels (e.g., grade 2; Secondary ESL).
  • Offer follow-up to workshop & extend incentives through tie-ins to other school programs e.g. Explorer Schools, Scientist For a Day, etc.
  • Article in professional newsletters, journals, NSTA.
  • Web-based support, FAQs, user chat/hints.
  • Workshops can model how to teach deeper activities.

Cassini Scientist for a Day Evaluation Summary
Teachers whose students participated in the essay contest were given a survey. They were asked:

  • Aow they found out about the essay contest,
  • Whether the videos on the contest website were useful,
  • Whether their students learned more about what it’s like to be a scientist on a real space mission,
  • Whether they would recommend the essay contest to other teachers, and
  • If they had any suggestions they had for improving future contests.
Results were very positive. Suggestions for contest improvements were implemented in subsequent editions of the contest, including:
  • Making three grade categories (5-6, 7-8, and 9-12) rather than just two (5-8 and 9-12),
  • Increasing publicity about the contest,
  • Clarifying the rules and frequently asked questions,
  • Making the online entry form easier for teachers to use, and
  • Targeting underrepresented groups to encourage them to participate in the essay contest.

One of the best measures of success is the number of teachers who have their students enter the contest year after year (66 teachers from 2009 to 2012) and recommend the contest to other teachers (over 80%).



2006 NASA honor award

“Reading, Writing & Rings” won a 2006 NASA honor award: “NASA Group Achievement Award to Cassini-Huygens Literacy Program for Outstanding contribution to "Reading, Writing and Rings" the successful Cassini Huygens formal education project that teaches basic literacy using the science, math, and technology of the Cassini-Huygens mission by integrating language arts and science for our nation's youngest learners.”

Gold 2004 Telly award

The Ring World Planetarium Show won a Gold 2004 Telly award, the “Oscar” of this type of show.

  • The NASA Education Review gave the DVD version of the Ring World Planetarium Show “Ring World 2” an "Outstanding" rating.
  • It is identified as an exemplary product in the Space Science Education Resource Directory.”
  • Ring World Planetarium Show won a Gold Telly award in 2004. It has also shown nationally and internationally to hundreds of planetariums in multiple languages plus a version for schools in English, Spanish and Letterbox for hearing impaired, and in Podcast (or “vodcast”) available for download.

Products on the NASA Education Portal

Print products rated as outstanding that reside on the NASA Education Portal include the Education Wall sheet “Saturn, Jewel of the Solar System” & a Spanish language version: “Saturno: La Joya Del Sistema Solar”, “Reading, Writing and Rings” booklets for grades 1-2 and 3-4, and links to the DVD version of the Ring World planetarium Show DVD.

Webby Awards

Cassini Mission Website was nominated for a Webby in 2005 and won the Judges Webby Award in 2009 for best science website at the 13th Annual Webby Awards in the Science category.



Audience Quotes

Below are two examples of students whose lives and career paths were impacted by their participation in the Cassini Scientist for a Day essay contest:

Matt Pleatman was a high school senior in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 2008 when he entered the Cassini Scientist for a Day essay contest.  Matt went on to graduate from Duke University in 2013, where he studied computer and electrical engineering. He attributes his STEM focus in his higher education to his participation in Cassini Scientist for a Day, and in meeting Cassini engineers when he visited JPL after winning the national essay contest:

“I think winning the Cassini Scientist for a Day contest was one of the most important formative experiences I had in making my decision to study engineering. Learning about the JPL and speaking with the team there both inspired me and made me realize that when a group of engineers get together with a common goal, almost anything is possible. And it certainly influenced my independent study project, which you can learn more about here:”

Jared Dmello won the Cassini Scientist for a Day essay contest in 2007, when he was 13 years old. He was a student at Columbia Middle School in Adelanto, California at the time. Jared and seven of his classmates visited JPL and met with the Cassini project manager and members of the science team to discuss his essay. Jared is now studying Astrophysics at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.

"I think that NASA's Cassini Scientist for a Day essay contest definitely played a role in the decisions that I made relating to my educational and professional aspirations. I came to the University of Hawai'i at Manoa with an interest in Astrophysics; I even worked on a research project in the physics department, which focused on neutrino detection. The Cassini Scientist for a Day contest made me realize how massive the world is around us and how much there is to learn and discover about the Universe that we play such a small part in!” teachers who receive Cassini outreach materials have written some beautiful thank you letters, letting us know what an impact these materials have made in their classrooms. One excerpt from a thank you message from Frances Amato, a STEM Teacher and Technology Liaison, is below:

“Thank you so much for the beautiful packet of stuff you sent me. I opened the packet and a few happy tears came out because this is the kindest thing I have ever received, especially because someone saw a grant that I wrote. I teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Educating my students means the world to me and you have definitely given me some beautiful things to show the children that will bring the Solar System into this reality for them. I just wanted to write you and let you know how much I appreciate everything you sent. I teach over eighty students with Autism and Multiple Disabilities so having these vivid posters and pictures... words just can't describe how much it means.

I am teaching the whole scope of science and receiving stuff from NASA is such a big thing for me. I teach everything about the solar system, to going into space and what job there are out there if you want to visit planets so everything is always welcomed and appreciated. By letting students explore what is out there, we open endless possibilities for their futures. Thank you for being a part of that. If not I just wanted to express sincere gratitude on behalf of my students and my whole school. Your packet has given so much to support student growth and learning. Thank you again!”