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Physics major selected as NASA International Year of Astronomy student ambassador

A physics major at New Mexico State University, with aspirations to work with NASA someday, is one step closer to his goal in his new role as NASA student ambassador for the International Year of Astronomy.

Stephen Bussard, a physics major at New Mexico State University, is a NASA student ambassador for the International Year of Astronomy. (NMSU photo by Audry Olmsted)

Stephen Bussard said he is excited to begin his duties as ambassador.

"So far, talking with the other ambassadors, they're very, very motivated and excited to have this opportunity," Bussard said. "I'm really excited to work with the other ambassadors."

Bussard joins 45 other nationally selected ambassadors to promote the International Year of Astronomy for 2009.

The NASA International Year of Astronomy Student Ambassadors program is designed to help generate excitement among undergraduate and graduate students about NASA scientific discoveries in astrophysics, planetary science and solar physics. It also encourages them to get involved in activities in their local communities.

Bussard said as part of his duties, he will coordinate local activities as they coincide with events for the International Year of Astronomy, such as organize an event to observe the night sky. The idea is also to collaborate with other organizations, such as the Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy and the NASA Planetary Data System's Atmospheres node, both of which are based on campus at NMSU.

"We store all of the atmospheric data that's collected by NASA within our solar system. All of that atmospheric data from other planets is studied here. Most people at NMSU don't even know we have a node of NASA's Planetary Data System, but would like to spread that information around," Bussard said.

As a former resident assistant, Bussard said he is excited to get residents involved in activities.

"We look forward to having Stephen work with us on a variety of Astronomy outreach events during 2009, the International Year of Astronomy," said Jim Murphy, head of the Department of Astronomy.

Bussard wrote two essays as part of his application process for the ambassadorship. One of the essays was how he would present NASA and astronomy in local communities and the second essay asked how he would represent NASA at an international level.

Bussard receives a $2,000 stipend as part of his ambassadorship.

In December 2006, Bussard was selected as a college student intern for the NASA Planetary Data System (PDS) and for 18 months, worked in the Department of Astronomy on research focused on the atmosphere of Mars.

Bussard has been employed by the Atmospheres Node of the PDS since June 2008, shortly after his internship there ended. Since that time, he has attended two Planetary Science Conferences, in Orlando, Fla., and Ithaca, N.Y., as well as a workshop for an aeronautical computer programming subsystem called SPICE (Spacecraft Planet Instrument Camera-matrix Events) in Arcadia, Calif.

He is the recipient of the New Mexico Grant undergraduate scholarship. He is set to graduate in 2010.

Bussard said he hopes to make a "big deal" out of the good opportunities to come from the ambassadorship.

"So far, what I've participated in with NASA, it's very much so, the opportunities are what you make them," he said. "If you don't do anything with them, then the opportunities, they're not really a big deal. When you're done with them, you can't really say much about them. But if you really put a lot of work into it, then there are opportunities for people to notice you."