One of the newest missions of the Science Mission Directorate is the OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission. Begun in 2011, and extending to 2025, the mission education and public outreach (E/PO) was designed to engage educators, students, citizen scientists, and the public in a daring sample return mission that would deepen their understanding of how our solar system formed and how asteroids interact with planetary bodies – like the one on which we live!

More about the OSIRIS-REx programs can be found at:


Science Mission:

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will travel to a near-Earth asteroid (101955) Bennu, explore it in detail, and bring a sample back to Earth! This sample will help us investigate planet formation and the origin of life. The data collected while the spacecraft is at the asteroid will increase our understanding of asteroids.

The asteroid to be explored – Bennu - was named by a 9-year old North Carolina student in an OSIRIS-REx E/PO contest conducted by the University of Arizona in partnership with The Planetary Society and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory (discoverers of the asteroid).

Education and Public Outreach Mission and Approach:

The OSIRIS-REx E/PO program is described in detailed in the E/PO Final Plan that was reviewed by an E/PO review panel concurrent with the panel that reviewed the mission science and implementation plan. Following the review, the plan was approved by SMD E/PO in March 2013. This program included formal and informal education and public outreach programs. The OSIRIS-REx E/PO program was founded on a network of partnerships to leverage existing capabilities, content, expertise and networks. All programs planned to incorporate research and evidence-based approaches and best practices many of which were obtained through collaborations with existing NASA E/PO programs and forums. All programs include evaluation in accordance with best practices, incorporating an external evaluator as well as internal monitoring for effectiveness. The plan includes (light gray indicates programs that are eliminated as of June 1, 2013, Phase C/D contract:

  • Training to enable educators to bring OSIRIS-REx content to students and the general public:
    • professional development for teachers;*
    • professional development for informal educators and librarians,*
    • a competitive program for NASA Space Grant students to conduct E/PO at their home institutions after intensive training with OSIRIS-REx on content and pedagogy;*
    • internships for students in E/PO evaluation;*
    • internships for students at Goddard Space Flight Center – OSIRIS-REx related science;*
    • an extensive Ambassador program to train OSIRIS-REx team members and community volunteers in content and presentation skills for E/PO, then CPE;

  • Product development to increase the effectiveness of education and outreach efforts:
    • development of kits (hands-on lessons) for use in K-12 (focus: middle school, high school) – based on National Optical Astronomy Observatory expertise and programs such as GEMS;*
    • kit modification for informal use in science centers and libraries;*
    • production of a Planetarium/multi-purpose newsreel;*
    • production of traveling exhibits to target rural and small venues (e.g., libraries, science centers) [note: In October – December 2013 OSIRIS-REx installed the Great Balls of Fire! exhibit + OSIRIS-REx content at the University of Arizona as the first step in preparing these exhibits for travel in 2016 – preparation of materials, audience testing, etc.];*
    • production of an exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals;*
    • extensive collaboration with OSIRIS-REx team members (e.g., scientists and engineers) to produce E/PO programs for public groups (team member classroom visits will be outside the scope of the CPE program although CPE can provide stock presentation materials for team member use);
    • development of extensive materials for team member use including presentations suitable for general audiences (and students) as well as training for team members to undertake education and public engagement;

  • Programs to allow the public to actively learn about, engage with, and participate in the OSIRIS-REx mission:
    • contests and programs such as Name that Asteroid! (completed April 2013) and Fly Your Name to an Asteroid (and Back)! (to start Fall 2013) + events with The Planetary Society.
    • citizen science programs: Target Asteroids! (observing program for amateur astronomers – plans to expand to students will now require non-NASA funding*), mapping the asteroid (based on Dawn mission and other existing programs with CosmoQuest),
    • internet and social media presence: hub website/portal, Facebook, Twitter underway with plans for additional outlets including blogs, YouTube, etc.

* Programs ceased May 31, 2013. Per the 2014 budget proposed by the Administration, future OSIRIS-REx efforts will not include E/PO. Efforts will only include Communication and Public Engagement (CPE).

The primary target audience of the Communication and Public Engagement program will be the general public. All content/material will be produced so that it can be used by a variety of audiences in various venues. For example, although videos will be produced for the general audience to view online, the content will be appropriate if a middle school teacher decides to use it in a classroom.

Lead Organizations

The University of Arizona




The OSIRIS-REx E/PO team brings to its portfolio of educational and outreach programs extensive experience and expertise in preK - 12 teaching, higher education, and informal education, as well as STEM experience in the private sector, electronic media development and information technologies experience, program management, and science and engineering content through its E/PO-CPE staff and mission scientists and engineers.

Key to the design and implementation of an E/PO program that effectively and accurately shares the mission science, is close collaboration between the education practitioners and the scientists and engineers. Together they form the E/PO team, complementing each other’s skills and knowledge in the science and engineering and its impactful delivery to the public. The OSIRIS-REx Mission scientists and engineers review the content for all E/PO products and resources, contribute content, help to create
educational activities and resources, interpret the data and results for sharing with the audiences, and interact with the public through presentations, and participation in electronic and social media efforts (podcast, vodcast, videos, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

To develop and implement its high quality programs across a broad and diverse array of audiences, the team includes numerous well-established partners. These include:

  • National Optical Astronomy Observatory – material development and teacher workshops*
  • USRA/Lunar and Planetary Institute – material development and informal educator workshops*
  • Goddard Space Flight Center - student Internships for OSIRIS-REx and material development and informal educator workshops*
  • NASA Space Grant – workshops and program materials*
  • National Museum of Natural History – exhibit*
  • Clark Planetarium – multimedia newsreel*
  • Southwest Meteorite Laboratory – education consultant/exhibits*
  • Johnson Space Center – formal education materials*
  • Space Sciences Institute – Great Balls of Fire! exhibit, audience data, software*
  • University of Wisconsin – program evaluation (formal, informal and outreach)*
  • UA College of Education – pre-service and in-service teacher training*
  • UA Office of Instruction and Assessment – Graduate student evaluators*
  • CosmoQuest
  • Target Asteroids!-specific partnerships:
    • Association of Lunar & Planetary Observers
    • Astronomical League
    • Catalina Sky Survey
    • International Astronomical Search Collaboration
    • iTelescope.net
    • Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter
    • NASA Night Sky Network
    • Oceanside Photo & Telescope
    • Sierra Stars Observatory Network

* Programs ceased May 31, 2013. Per the 2014 budget proposed by the Administration, future OSIRIS-REx efforts will not include E/PO. Efforts will only include Communication and Public Engagement (CPE).




The OSIRIS-REx Mission E/PO program began June 2011 and continued through May 31, 2013. A longitudinal study of the program (years 2012-2023) was planned as part of the E/PO Implementation and Evaluation Plan. The plan investigated changes in audience awareness, knowledge, and understanding, audience engagement, and changes in attitude and behavior as a result of participation in OSIRIS-REx E/PO programs.

As of this time, the evaluation has been cancelled, and thus, we have no long-term impact results. Metrics for the programs conducted to date follow.

Name that Asteroid! Contest:

  • Total number of entries: 8,466 (4,353 from US)
  • Total number of countries represented: 25
  • Average age of contestant: 11.8 years

OSIRIS-REx Presents Great Balls of Fire! Exhibit / Asteroid Academy field trips (October – December 2012)

  • Total number of visitors: 7,272 (including school groups)
  • Total number of school field trips: 35 (grades 5-7)
  • Total number of students: 1,042

Website, Facebook and Twitter are all growing by about 5% per month. Most recent numbers include:

  • Hub Website 4/22/13-05/17/12: 3,402 unique visitors, 66.61% new visitors – 54% increase from last report – 910 visits were on May 1, 2013, the day we announced the name for the asteroid.
  • Facebook likes as of 05/17/13: 1,029 – 7% increase from previous month.
  • Twitter Followers as of 05/17/13: 902 - 11% increase from previous month.



Effectiveness and Impact

  • Evaluations completed for the OSIRIS-REx Presents Great Balls of Fire!/Asteroid Academy exhibit and school program provided feedback for improvement of the proposed exhibit to deploy in 2016.
  • Evaluations completed (to date) for the Target Asteroids! program demonstrated the efficacy of the materials and process for the program and indicated additional needs in order to create a more diverse audience.

As of this time, the OSIRIS-REx Mission E/PO and its evaluation have been cancelled.