January 28, 2002
Local space enthusiast to be NASA Solar System Ambassador
by Deborah Stone
By day Woodinville resident Greg Donohue works as a principal design consultant in the electronic design automation industry, helping customers create integrated circuits for supercomputers. At night he explores his true passion - the solar system, with the help of a 10-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, which he fondly refers to as the HST - "Humble Seattle Telescope."
"Actually," says Donohue, "I spend most of my leisure time on amateur astronomy. It's a fascinating field and one that I've been interested in since I was a child. I'm interested in all realms of space exploration, astronomy, cosmology, astrophysics - the whole shebang."
Several years ago, Donohue became actively involved in sharing his passion with others through a variety of community outreach activities.
He writes, engineers and performs a weekly astronomy program called, "It's Over Your Head," on a local radio station (KSER 90.7), serves on the board of the Seattle Astronomical Society, maintains two astronomy-related Web sites and brings astronomy education to school children through participation in Project ASTRO at Eagle Rock Multi-Age School in Duvall.
Project ASTRO was developed by the Astronomical Society from the Pacific, and it is a program that hooks up professional and amateur astronomers with schools.
"I go into Eagle Rock," explains Donohue, "and do interactive activities on various aspects of astronomy to the children. They all know me as the Galaxy Guy. We'll make models of comets with dry ice, do solar system walks and have star parties at night using my telescope. It's lots of fun for them and a great way to learn about space."
Donohue is committed to helping people get an understanding of astronomy basics, as he feels this knowledge is important.
He says, "If you understand the size of the universe, it can help you put life in perspective. Your understanding of this impacts your view of the universe and your place in it. It also helps to clear up all the misconceptions about astronomy that people have. It's important that people be scientifically literate as it will help them in their approach to life. It allows them to make good, rational decisions."
Recently, Donohue was honored for his work by NASA and selected to be a Solar System Ambassador (SSA) for 2002.
NASA chose 278 space enthusiasts from all over the country who will be ambassadors in their communities, organizing programs about space exploration for both children and adults. The group of volunteers will receive special training from NASA/JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) and will have access to many of the scientists and engineers who work on solar system space exploration missions. They will run events such as star parties, lectures, community displays, musical presentations and library appearances. The 5-year-old ambassador program will reach all 50 states for the first time this year. In 2001, there were 206 ambassadors in 48 states who organized more than 960 presentations and reached about 2.5 million people, including those who learned about the programs via mass media.
Ambassadors were selected by the program's board of directors at the Jet Propulsion Lab based at Cal Tech after submitting a detailed application.
The ambassadors chosen are a diverse group, ranging from a Minnesota lawyer to a Texas teacher trainer, and from a California respiratory therapist to a Georgia marine mechanic.
Although they come from different backgrounds, they all share a common interest in space exploration and a desire to share this interest with their communities. As an ambassador, Donohue plans to hold several events in the coming year.
He says, "I am scheduled to do one on past, present and future planetary explorations at Pacific Science Center in April and then I will be conducting some interactive programs at the Cedar Falls Watershed in North Bend late spring and early summer. I will also continue my work at Eagle Rock, hoping to get in there about twice a month during the school year."
Once a month Donohue will attend Web based conferences with mission specialists and receive current data about various missions. He will also have access to a variety of multimedia materials from JPL to use in his community programs.
"Being chosen to be an ambassador is quite an honor," comments Donohue.
"I feel fortunate to be selected and to be provided with the opportunity to have access to a wealth of wonderful, quality knowledge and then be able to share it with others. I want people to get excited about space. It's the next big frontier."