Even the biggest names in science were all kids once; they were looking into telescopes, launching model rockets or learning about remote-controlled robots.
The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center is offering kids today the same opportunities during the center’s Aerospacefest 2014, which runs Friday, June 13, and Saturday, June 14.
“One of the things I love about this festival is that we get families in here. It’s helpful for families to support learning,” said Jeanne Gerulskis, executive director of the Discovery Center. “As a kid, I spent hours looking at maps and thinking about traveling. My family supported that interest. … That helped me in how I approached my future.”
The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord is hosting its annual Aerospacefest to celebrate aviation, earth sciences and space exploration. For two full days, Aerospacefest takes over the Discovery Center’s entire backyard and even pours into the New Hampshire Technical Institute campus and athletic fields.
A variety of aerospace companies and science museums attend the festival each year, but they don’t just set up booths and hand out pamphlets. Gerulskis said most of the scientific opportunities at the festival are much easier — and more fun — to learn in an active, hands-on environment.
“We tried [having booths] one year, and the kids and families just walked right by them,” said Gerulskis. “The point of the festival is to get them really excited about space exploration so that maybe they’ll consider high-tech and space industry jobs. They get to see how much fun things are, create things that make them want to explore.”
The history of the festival spans back to 1991. The Discovery Center, which at that time was still the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium, hosted a one-day event called Astronomy Day. The event was renamed “Spacetacular Saturday” in 2000, and when the planetarium evolved into a science museum in 2009, the annual celebration became a two-day festival called Aerospacefest.
With the Aerospacefest universe expanding, the Discovery Center decided to include aviation companies along with the space and earth science attractions to give the festival a more diverse feel, Gerulskis said.
The event will include two guest speakers this year. The Friday evening kick-off event will feature Col. Bill Moran, the Wing Commander of the NH Civil Air Patrol. Moran will be recounting his memorable day as the squadron commander and pilot of one of the B-1B bombers which broke several “Time to Climb” world records in North Dakota in 1992.
The second day of the festival will feature Lee Morin as the keynote speaker. Morin, an astronaut originally from Manchester, worked as a diving surgeon for submarines and a flying surgeon on airplanes.
“He’s done some really cool things,” said Gerulskis. “He joined NASA to do spacewalks at the International Space Station, and right now he’s working on a crew for development to take humans to Mars.”
Aerospacefest 2014 will also include more new attractions than in previous years. A planetarium show called “To Space & Back” will premiere, taking the audience all the way across space to the edge of the known universe and bringing them back just in time for lunch. Also opening will be “The Sun as Art,” an exhibit showcasing dozens of images of the sun taken by a NASA satellite.
There will, of course, be some old favorites as well. The New Hampshire Astronomical Society offers a free telescope viewing that allows viewers to safely observe the sun, or the Statehouse dome if it happens to be a cloudy day.
Other locations on the NHTI campus will offer demonstrations of remote-controlled planes, model air rocket launches and a meet-and-greet with some endangered animals courtesy of Wildlife Encounters.
One of the most popular activities at the event is the launching of weather balloons by the Plymouth State University Judd Gregg Meteorology Institute. Rain or shine, children rush out to watch the balloon float into the skies to get a reading on the weather.
“We launch two or three balloons, one in the morning, one at lunch and one in the afternoon,” said Dr. Sam Miller, associate professor of meteorology at the Meteorology Institute. “We invite the public to help with the launch and then to look on as the radiosonde returns with live information about humidity, temperature, air pressure and wind.”
Miller believes the public excitement comes from being involved first-hand.
“As a parent, I know kids get more out of activities that are hands-on,” he said. “They want to play with stuff and it makes it more interesting. It gets kids excited about science and understanding the world from a scientific perspective.”
Gerulskis said even for kids who are more interested in the arts, Aerospacefest will show them that not only is science a, well, science, but it can be creative, too.
“As kids get older, people say how math is hard and it can deter them from getting into those careers,” said Gerulskis. “We want [kids] to see how much fun people have with [math and science] and that there are really cool jobs you can get.”
As seen in the June 12, 2014 issue of the Hippo.