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Praised by the President
Who Are NASA's Space Science Explorers?

Who are NASA's Space Science Explorers? The scientist studying black holes in space. The teacher talking about the secrets of the cosmos. And the student asking if there is life away from Earth. All of these people are Space Science Explorers. They are all curious about our solar system and space. This is a story about a NASA Space Science Explorer.

Sten Odenwald is a space scientist. So is Lou Mayo. Both work at NASA. They study stars and planets. But their work with students is what makes them so special. President Bush is even a fan. He praised them for teaching kids about space.

Bush called Sten and Lou "good, hardworking folks." He said they teach kids that "science is cool." He also said, "Science is not only cool -- it's really important for the future of this country." He said this while talking at a middle school.

What made the president notice Sten and Lou? Space Science Explorers wondered the same thing. Read on to find out what the two men do and why they like space science.

Sten Odenwald

When Sten Odenwald was a little kid, he was afraid of the dark. But that didn't stop him from looking at the night sky.

President Bush talks with a group of people
Image above: Sten Odenwald (far right) and astronomy teacher Dorian Janney (far left) meet with President Bush and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. School principal Kevin Hobbs looks on in the background. Credit: NASA
His interest in stars and space started at a young age. Some kids collect baseball cards. Sten collected pictures of galaxies. A galaxy is a huge collection of stars, dust and gas. Sten memorized the distance from Earth to each galaxy. He also learned the names of many different stars and families of stars.

By fifth grade, Sten had his first telescope. A telescope can help people see stars and planets that are far away. In sixth grade, Sten wrote a letter to NASA. He wrote about his interest in space. He says NASA wrote back and sent all kinds of books and pictures. They explained how NASA explores the solar system and beyond.

NASA's answer to his letter made Sten even more excited about space. He's been learning about the universe ever since. Sten is now a NASA astronomer. He studies light that comes from the very first stars and galaxies, which were born billions of years ago. These objects are very far away from Earth. Their light can only be seen with a really strong telescope.

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Sten enjoys teaching other people what he learns, especially kids. He writes about space science in books and magazines. Many times the best way to teach is in person. Sten makes weekly visits to a middle school. He teaches students about the many strange objects in space. Last school year, Sten led a group of kids in a science project. They figured out where the edge of the Milky Way galaxy is. That's the galaxy that our solar system is in. The students got to show their work to President Bush!

Teaching science to kids is important to Sten. He hopes they'll think about becoming scientists, just like him.

Lou Mayo

For Lou Mayo, birthdays are not the only time to have a party.

Lou Mayo and a student use a telescope to study the sun
Image above: Lou Mayo uses telescopes to spark student interest in astronomy. Credit: NASA
As a kid, Lou would have "star parties" in his backyard. He and his friends would run around and have fun, just like at any other party. But they would also stop to look up at the night sky. They could see stars through Lou's shiny new telescope.

Years later, Lou is still learning about stars and space. He does this now as a NASA astronomer. Lately, he's been studying the air on Titan. That's Saturn's largest moon. It's the second-biggest moon in the solar system.

Lou tries to get kids as excited about space as he is. He started astronomy clubs that meet after school. These clubs are all over the world. They have fun events for students. The clubs hold star parties, much like the ones Lou used to have. They also go on field trips to museums.

Lou also visits schools to talk to students and teachers. He likes to correct wrong thoughts they might have about space.

Lou Mayo and President Bush shake hands outside a school
Image above: Lou Mayo shakes hands with President Bush, as U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings interacts with students outside the school. Credit: NASA
For example, some people think the North Star is the brightest star in the sky. But it isn't. The brightest star is really Sirius, also known as the "Dog Star." Why do people call it that? Sirius is part of a family of stars arranged in the shape of a dog.

Others think Jupiter's surface is solid. That's wrong, too. Jupiter's surface is made of colorful clouds of gas.

Sirius and Jupiter are just two of billions of objects in space. Lou says it's fun for kids to think about space and how big it is. No one knows how many weird and wild things are in the dark space around Earth. Space will always have something new to learn about or discover.

Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies