Europlanet honours Austrian Space Forum with Prize for Excellence in Public Engagement with Planetary Science
May 30, 2011

oewfThe 2011 Europlanet prize for excellence in public engagement with planetary science has been awarded to the Austrian Space Forum.

The Austrian Space Forum is a national network for aerospace specialists and space enthusiasts. It is a volunteer organisation led by space professionals, focusing on space research including human-robotic Mars exploration. Since 1998, it has developed an outreach programme that targets schools, teachers, the general public and the media. The spectrum of its outreach activities ranges from simple classroom presentations to space exhibitions reaching 15 000 visitors.

The award of 4000 Euros will be presented to the Austrian Space Forum at the European Planetary Science Congress and Division of Planetary Sciences (EPSC-DPS) 2011 Joint Meeting, which will take place at the La Cité Internationale des Congrès Nantes Métropole, Nantes, France, from 03 – 07 October 2011.

“The Austrian Space Forum is a model for organisations reaching out to the wider community. The judges were very impressed by the range of activities, by the innovative practices used to target different audiences, and by the numbers of visitors attending events,” said Dr Thierry Fouchet, Outreach Coordinator for Europlanet.

“We feel very privileged to receive the honour of this award”, states Gernot Groemer, president of the Austrian Space Forum, “We consider education and outreach always as a partnership at eye level – the knowledge and fascination we transfer to our communities about space activities has started to return back to our organisation in the form of talented interns, enthusiastic volunteers and even professionals dedicating their expertise.”

“We are deeply convinced, that the young people we are touching with our activities are indeed the very generation which will continue our voyages throughout the Solar System”, Gernot Groemer adds, “including a crewed mission to Mars. So who knows, if with one of our lectures, hands-on activities, education projects or so we have already set the seed for a future career as a planetary scientist or Mars astronaut.”

The Austrian Space Forum’s research activities in the field of Mars exploration are complemented by the strong focus on educative and outreach aspects. The Forum has run schools competitions to design Mars missions and has developed a series of planet-themed outreach kits for audiences ranging from kindergarten to teenagers and adults. The kits include a set of space suits, a Martian landscape and a remote-controlled Mars rover, complete with cameras and a robotic arm. Public events include multimedia shows, often in partnership with science museums, and presences at festivals e.g. Ars Electronica Center Festival, Linz and the Innsbruck Autumn Fair.

The Austrian Space Forum produces regular press fact sheets on planetary science topics and events, as well as updates on its activities via its website, monthly Newsletter, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. In April, the Austrian Space Forum mounted a field campaign to a Mars analogue site in Rio Tinto, Spain, to test the spacesuit simulator, Aouda.X. The campaign was part of PolAres, an interdisciplinary programme of the Austrian Space Forum, in cooperation with international partners, to develop strategies in preparation for future human-robotic exploration of the surface of Mars.

For images and animations, see:
The Austrian Space Forum

The Austrian Space Forum (Österreichisches Weltraum Forum, OeWF) serves as a communication platform between the space sector and the public; it is embedded in a global network of specialists from the space industry, research and policy. Hence, the OeWF facilitates a strengthening of the Austrian space sector through enhancing the public visibility of space activities, technical workshops and conferences as well as Forum-related projects.
The Europlanet Research Infrastructure is a major (€6 million) programme co-funded by the European Union under the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission.

The Europlanet Research Infrastructure links more than 100 laboratories in Europe and around the world. The project aims to integrate and consolidate the planetary science community in Europe by organising networking activities, meetings and conferences, providing access to laboratories and field sites in Europe, developing new facilities and field sites and creating online access to planetary science data. Through its outreach activities, Europlanet aims to create a dynamic network of people across Europe involved in public engagement with planetary science, motivate and enable European planetary scientists to be involved with outreach activities and find innovative ways of raising the profile of Europe’s planetary science activity among citizens, as well as policy makers and industry.