The "From Earth to the Universe" (FETTU) public science project was a worldwide effort to bring astronomical images and their science to the public in non-traditional locations such as public parks, metro stations, shopping malls, hospitals, libraries, and even prisons. FETTU was a major project for the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009), a global effort initiated by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo's telescope. Approximately 70 countries hosted FETTU in nearly 1,000 sites—from small villages to the largest cities with budgets of all sizes—FETTU was featured on every continent except Antarctica.

The evaluation strategy implemented in the U.S. for the NASA-funded FETTU locations was based on informal education evaluation models recommended by the National Science Foundation (NSF) publication, "Framework for Evaluating Impacts of Informal Science Education Projects" (2008).

In the U.S., FETTU site evaluations collected information about the use of non-traditional settings and space science imagery to attract new audiences to further engagement with astronomy learning opportunities. The strategy has been to evaluate the impact of FETTU on three audiences using a master evaluation protocol that was adapted for local venues and different exhibit sizes. The audiences targeted were:

  1. Viewing audiences (exploring knowledge, awareness, understanding of science content, enjoyment, inspiration,  and behavior)
  2. Staff of host-partner institutions (building up the capacity to organize outreach events, increasing knowledge of programs) and local community partners at each site (nurturing new partnerships for science education for  sustainability)
"The FETTU staff were incredibly patient with us as we engaged in a seemingly endless set of negotiations with the university, which had never done anything like this..."

"The exhibition gave us the opportunity to improve our relation with the community."

"I loved the images and really enjoyed watching the way visitors interacted with them, both as art and science. We closed our planetarium a few years ago, so for me this was a little like having that back. ...A great personal experience."

"The exhibit was simple but effective and provided strong science content with minimal cost to our venue."

"I was very pleased to have been part of something at such a public location and seen by so many."

"The most frequent response to the exhibit was probably, 'Wow'."

The FETTU data were collected on site through surveys and observations (see Appendixes 1a-1b for questions).

The surveys included a 7-point Likert Scale with additional open-ended questions. The survey ratings were averaged for each of the 10 sites that were included and compiled. Written responses to the questions were grouped and then categorized into themes. Observations were collected from 5 sites. Compiled information includes the number of images viewed, the make-up of the groups viewing and the time spent at the exhibit. The following table provides a demographic overview of the sites.

Sites Locale No. of Surveys* Males Females Average Age Comment Percent Comment Number
Alaska Library & Convention Center 6 4 2 48 88% 7
Arkansas U. of Fayetteville Outside 8 4 4 36 100% 6
Atlanta Airport 17 9 8 43 76% 13
Boston U Mass. Outside MOS Outside 5 2 1 29 80% 4
Chicago O'Hare Airport 18 9 9 32 79% 15
Columbus, Ohio COSI (science museum) 25 7 17 40 44% 11
Memphis LIbrary 135 58 69 36 46% 62
New York City Columbia U. Outside 43 21 21 30 56% 24
Smithsonian NASM Outside 16 7 9 46 88% 14
Tucson Airport 17 11 6 45 0% 0
Total 290 132 146 38.5 54% 156
(*)In some cases, gender was not indicated on the survey so the Male/Female count does not add up to the total visitor count.


The survey requested that visitors rate their opinions about the FETTU exhibit using a scale from 1-7. The next table includes the compiled averages for each question from the 10 interview sites. Overall the standard deviation shows that the responses for each of the questions were tightly clustered around the average for all sites indicating very little spread in the individual responses.

1. Overall, how do you feel about "From Earth to the Universe"?


Visitors felt very positive about their "From Earth to the Universe" experience as reflected in the very high averages (with 7 being the most positive response) for "Liked Overall," "Increased Curiosity," and "Would Recommend." The slightly lower response to "Learned a lot" is partly reflected in visitor comments that they were already knowledgeable about the subject matter in various ways before encountering the exhibit.

2. Overall, how do you feel about the amount of information, science, and explanation of scientific principles in "From Earth to the Universe"?


With "4" being the ideal response, the averages to this set of questions indicate very positive reactions to the depth of content and the amount of information provided in the exhibit. However, it is worth noting that although the instructions asked participants to "read the opposite descriptors carefully" there is speculation that some people scored their response as "7" believing that to be the ideal number.

In a number of cases respondents chose "7" for all of the questions in the survey, indicating high satisfaction with everything. (In one instance it was evident that the "7s" had been erased and replaced with "4s" for this set.) These 2 questions are the only ones in the survey that do not have a straight gradient from negative to positive indicating a potential source of confusion. All scores were entered as indicated on the survey.

3. To what extent has seeing "From Earth to the Universe" increased or decreased your interest in learning more about each of the following?


As shown in the comments to the left, people were very interested in the astronomy content of the exhibit. There was slightly less interest in how scientists go about studying the Universe. The lower scoring for interest in science-related careers was partly explained in comments that many people were already interested or engaged in science-related careers—or were already very settled in a different career path.


In summary, FETTU provides an opportunity to disseminate scientific information to the public in new and innovative ways. By selecting images that are aesthetically appealing and placing them in locations outside the traditional walls of science centers and planetariums, FETTU has exposed audiences to astronomy that otherwise may not have had or seized upon such an opportunity.

There are several findings that have emerged from the formal evaluations, including participant and local organizer feedback. These findings are being further tracked and analyzed (with evaluation protocols refined) for the FETTU-sustainability project "From Earth to the Solar System" in support of NASA's Year of the Solar System.

  • Exposure to scientific content in these settings leads to inspiration and small learning gains.
  • Exhibits in these settings can reach millions of people relatively inexpensively, especially considering the low cost and ability to duplicate the exhibits from a central repository of freely available curated "open source" material.
  • Utilizing simple educational activities along with providing human interaction has the potential to increase the amount of engagement and effectiveness from these types of static displays.
  • Different location types (outdoor vs. indoor, academic/institutional vs. unexpected, fast-paced vs. slow, etc.) can have an impact on visitor engagement. For example, the airports led to very large amounts of exposure to material (and from which questions were submitted via email), while libraries offer smaller audiences that can engage more deeply, especially when a "docent" or other personal interaction is included. Further work is being done to study these differences in greater detail with projects such as the FETTU-derived From Earth to the Solar System with NASA's Astrobiology Institute.
  • Projects such as FETTU can forge new partnerships between otherwise disparate organizations in the same geographic area and link groups across international boundaries, and provide better linkages with the communities in which they reside. The organizations that participated in NASA-FETTU/US have asked to continue future projects of a similar style with the PI (for example the FETTU-derived Here, There & Everywhere project.
  • FETTU exhibits provide opportunities to study how the public's voluntary engagement differs when the content is changed, such as art compared to science, as well as studying the effects of participant make-up and research into color appeal, color comprehension and other aesthetics-related questions. This research is being continued in additional projects by the PI and Co-Is with the Aesthetics & Astronomy project as one example.

It may be that people already carry with them a connection with the Universe—in some casual way, regularly observing the Sun, other stars, the moon and near planets. Regardless of the source of the public's inherent curiosity in astronomy, "From the Earth to the Universe" has demonstrated that it can serve as both an artistically engaging exhibit and a very personal learning experience for its audience. The testimonials of the organizers as well as the evaluation data suggest that this type of event can spark interest in astronomy, and perhaps, other science and math topics.

In summary, FETTU has shown that a provocative and accessible display of astronomical images in unique and diverse locations outside traditional museums and science centers can attract vast numbers of people, and provide a new opportunity to engage the public in NASA content.