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Meet Maggie Masetti
Who are NASA's Earth and Space Science Explorers?

The middle school students who track weather to study its effect on bursting tree buds. And the scientist studying black holes in distant galaxies. But also the teacher whose class shares Earth science data with students around the world. And the engineer who designs robotic instruments to probe hard-to-reach planets. All of these people are Earth Explorers, Space Science Explorers or both. The Earth Explorers and Space Science Explorers series features NASA explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.

Maggie Masetti stands next to a model of a telescope

NASA education and outreach specialist Maggie Masetti stands next to a model of the James Webb Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA

For many students, pictures are an important part of learning. When a teacher is trying to explain difficult topics in Earth and space science, pictures can make all the difference. They can be the perfect way to turn confusing words into something understandable and fun.

Maggie Masetti keeps this in mind while designing games and Web sites for students, teachers and other people. She works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. She is part of the education team. Her goal is to make learning science easier and more fun.

Masetti created the new "Scope It Out!" game on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Web site. The telescope is planned for launch in 2014 to help astronomers study the universe. The James Webb Space Telescope doesn’t look much like a typical telescope. But, as the game demonstrates, it has similar parts that do similar things.

"Scope It Out!" uses pictures and animations to show how light travels through typical telescopes. It also lets the player compare the parts of a typical telescope with those of the James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope.

Screenshot of the 'Scope It Out' game

Maggie Masetti designed the "Scope It Out" game that helps students compare the James Webb Space Telescope to a traditional telescope. Image Credit: NASA

Another game that Masetti is working on will let players create their own space satellite. The game will teach them about the science behind satellites and about the cost and challenges of building one.

Masetti is no newcomer to astronomy and space science. Her father served in the U.S. Air Force and was always passionate about airplanes. He nurtured that interest in his daughter, too. She remembers going to air shows and making model rockets with her dad when she was a child. She went to Space Camp in 10th-grade and dreamed of being an astronaut.

But Masetti found her true calling as an intern at Goddard while studying physics and astronomy in college. The internship combined her love and interest in science with an ability to explain it to people. "I think science is very important," she said. "It's very important to have a curiosity about the world around us."

So when she was offered a permanent job working at NASA, Masetti took it. For more than a decade, she has worked on both Earth science and space science Web sites.

Screenshot of the 'Amelia the Pigeon' Web site

Maggie Masetti also worked on the "Amelia the Pigeon" Web site that teaches students about remote sensing. Image Credit: NASA

She worked on the interactive Amelia the Pigeon Web site. The site teaches about remote sensing by following Amelia, a camera-carrying pigeon. Remote sensing is a technique satellites use to take pictures of Earth.

The key to making science easier to grasp is to relate it to things people know from everyday life, Masetti says. For example, in an activity that she helped design, pieces of candy are used to teach about X-rays. Each piece of candy represents a particle of light, or a photon.

Masetti admits that science isn’t always easy to understand. When she first started college, she found astronomy to be different than she thought it would be.

"I thought it was a lot of looking through telescopes and stargazing," she said. But she soon discovered a lot of "nitty gritty" -- math and physics -- behind it. Understanding things like stars and galaxies, for example, requires doing a lot of math.

As tough as they may be, math and physics are important, says Masetti. They teach the basic ideas needed to explore Earth and space. "It's like learning an instrument," she said. "You have to practice scales and get sounds out of it before you can play anything beautiful."

Related Resources
James Webb Space Telescope   →
"Scope It Out!" Game   →
Hubble Space Telescope
The Adventures of Amelia the Pigeon   →
Meet the Next Earth Explorers
Meet the Next Space Science Explorers

Written by Prachi Patel, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies
Adapted for grades 5-8 audience by Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies