the entire spectrum of astronomical education and public outreach activities,4 especially the many less formal outreach activities.5 The committee believes that NASA’s important investments in informal education and public outreach at the current level of 1 percent of each mission’s cost should be continued.

Engagement with Astronomy Improves Science Literacy and Proficiency

As has been documented in several recent high-profile reports,6 the United States is ill-prepared for the economic and technical challenges of the 21st century. In particular, there is an urgent need to develop knowledge-based resources throughout society and to increase the number of teachers and students in STEM disciplines. For example, Jon Miller, in his paper entitled “Civic Scientific Literacy across the Life Cycle,” states that only 30 percent of the U.S. population is scientifically literate.7 Furthermore, the National Science Board estimates that more than a third of Americans do not understand that Earth orbits the Sun and that two-thirds are unaware of the big bang origin of the universe;8 and a study performed by the California Academy of the Sciences found that nearly half of American adults do not know the approximate percentage of Earth’s surface that is covered with water and that fewer than 1 percent know what fraction of that water is fresh.9 National science tests administered to schoolchildren show proficiency in science dropping from 33 percent in grades 4 through 8 to only 18 percent by grade 12.10 For the United States to remain scientifically and technologically competitive, science literacy and proficiency must become an urgent national priority.11


National Research Council, NASA’s Elementary and Secondary Education Program: Review and Critique, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2008.


As highlighted in National Research Council, Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits (P. Bell, B. Lewenstein, A.W. Shouse, and M.A. Feder, eds.), The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2009.


See, e.g., NAS, NAE, IOM, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, 2007, at; and Norman Augustine, Is America Falling Off the Flat Earth? 2007, at


Jon D. Miller, “Civic Scientific Literacy across the Life Cycle,” a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, San Francisco, California, February 17, 2007.


National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators 2006, National Science Foundation, Arlington, Va., available at


See California Academy of Sciences, “American Adults Flunk Basic Science: National Survey Shows Only One-in-Five Adults Can Answer Three Science Questions Correctly,” press release, 2009, available at


 National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2000, NCES 2003-453, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C., 2003.


 NAS, NAE, IOM, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, 2007.

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