What do yogurt cups and juice bottles have to do with the International Space Station? If you dropped by the National Mall Building on Saturday, May 8, between 10am and 3pm, you would have seen this question being answered by hundreds of visitors, working together to build a space station out of recycled materials.
Space Day is an annual family day program sponsored by Lockheed Martin. In addressing this year’s theme, “Looking at Earth from Space,” our astronaut guests explained the incredible feeling of seeing the circumference of the earth from the window of the shuttle. Curators from the National Air and Space Museum and presenters from research organizations used models and displays to show how satellites work and the cool things we can do with them.
We want family days to engage audiences of all ages in fun, informal, educational activities. For Space Day 2010, visitors could watch astronaut Dan Tani’s presentation about his stint on the International Space Station or build a satellite out of Styrofoam®. They could learn about observing solar irradiance at NASA’s GLORY display or chat with former astronaut Ken Wrightler at the Lockheed Martin booth. They could design a mission patch, hear astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson answer questions via amateur radio live from the International Space Station, or ask the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency about using satellites for disaster mitigation.
Back to yogurt cups and juice bottles: you may have noticed a new “exhibit” in the South Lobby between Saturday May 8 and Monday May 10. A nod to the environmental impact of the 1968 Earthrise photos, our visitor-built space station integrated the Space Day theme with our goals of promoting visitor interaction and using social media. The Museums’ flickr® account now features a set including pictures taken of the station every 30 minutes.
More than 40,000 visitors experienced Space Day this year. When you see a 7-year-old zooming around with his water-bottle space shuttle or hear a teenager say, “This is so cool!” to her friend during an astronaut’s presentation, you realize that this Museum has the power to both educate and inspire.
Erin Hrubik is the family programming assistant in the Education Department of the National Air and Space Museum.