History, Approach, and Impacts

The Lunar and Planetary Institute's Explore program is designed to engage children in Earth and space science in out-of-school time, library, and informal science education programs. Library staff across the country are using the activities to bring new audiences into the library. Since its inception 16 years ago, the Explore program has grown to support a community of more than nearly 900 individuals in 35 states — all trained to bring Earth and space science to their children's and youth programs. The program began through a generous grant from the National Science Foundation, and NASA continues to nurture the breadth and depth of Explore materials, resources, and trainings.

The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) launched the Explore program in 1998, believing that libraries — as centers of lifelong learning and hubs of their communities — have the potential to play a vital role in bringing space science to everyone. In 1999, the LPI recognized the tremendous potential for making more direct connections with children through ongoing youth programs in libraries. They began collaborating with the State Library of Louisiana to design an after-school science activity program for use in public libraries or other out-of-classroom education settings, including museums and planetariums. Fun with Science was seen as a new and exciting way to partner public libraries, community entities, and scientists to bring space science into neighborhood libraries. The format was intended to be flexible — materials could be presented in various venues, in short or long formats, and as part of summer youth programs, family days, after-school programs, and festivals — to name just a few. The first training was held in 1999 in West Baton Rouge Parish. Of the twenty librarians attending, ten hosted Explore! Fun with Science trainings that fall, reaching approximately 300 children. By the end of the summer of 2000, Explore library members numbered 253, and reached more than 9000 children through Explore: Fun with Science activities.

Explore! Fun with Science was originally supported through the Lunar and Planetary Institute by a grant from the NASA Office of Space Science for the Support Network of Broker/Facilitators and Forums. Explore was only one component of the Lunar and Planetary Institute's Broker/Facilitator Program. A grant in 2001 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) broadened the Explore! Fun with Science program resources and extended its reach. The development of additional hands-on activities and facilitator resources and online and in-person trainings are currently funded by NSF and NASA.

Since its inception 15 years ago, the Explore program has grown to support a community of over 900 professionals at libraries, parks, museums, planetariums, and other community centers in 35 states — all trained to bring Earth and space science and engineering to their children’s and youth programs.

A follow-up survey [1] of the Explore community was conducted in spring 2013, and the 168 respondents indicated that

  • 86% are actively using Explore materials; and
  • ~60% implement Explore activities on a regular basis.

Compared to their perceptions from before participating in Explore: 

  • Over 50% feel more prepared to offer science and engineering experiences and more comfortable using related resources — and they are more likely to lead science and engineering programs themselves (instead of hiring others);
  • 60% are very committed to providing science and engineering experiences for their visitors (compared to 16% before attending an Explore training); and
  • Over 75% are more likely to advocate for including science and engineering in the programs offered at their facilities.

[1] S. Buxner and A. Jaksha, Planetary Science Institute. Preliminary data provided via email communications, June 19, 2013.

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