For the fifth year in a row, Busch Gardens Williamsburg and NASA's Langley Research Center collaborated to engage the public in the excitement of science and space exploration.
Space exploration. Landing on Mars. Funky physics. All of these were much-discussed topics this past weekend as NASA Days at Busch Gardens took over the park once more.
In an effort to raise public awareness of the Monday morning landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), the largest rover ever sent to Mars, Busch Gardens guests could participate in a number of space and Mars related activities.
Guests had the chance to pose with a full-sized astronaut suit, experience the challenges of living and working in space and even watch a robot play basketball. Many park visitors enjoyed the experience, but some took away more from the day than just entertainment.
Newport News resident Janet Spring is a mother of two, and appreciated the impact that NASA Days could have on her children.
"It is great to see that our youth have the chance to do something like this, something practical," Spring said. "And it is really amazing the service being provided by all of the volunteers, they are coming out here in the heat to do it for the kids."
Yet despite the heat, booths and displays remained crowded with interested people, and the impact of NASA's presence did not go unnoticed by many of the volunteers.
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Maryam Amer, a LARSS intern at NASA Langley, talks with visitors about the challenges of space. Credit: NASA/Edith Robinson
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This year for NASA Day at Busch Gardens, visitors learned about the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), the largest rover ever sent to Mars. Credit: NASA/Edith Robinson
Taylor Ferebee, a rising senior at Hampton Roads Academy, spent all of Saturday at her booth explaining the impact of the MSL landing. As a member of the Aerospace Ambassador internship program, Ferebee was able to use her knowledge to talk with others about the mission to Mars.
"This is not only the future of NASA, but the future of human exploration," Ferebee said, "and we just really want to make sure people know that this is happening and also how important it is."
Ferebee was just one of the many volunteers explaining the importance of the MSL rover Curiosity. The size of a small car, Curiosity was sent to Mars in the search for the existence of water. After much anticipation, the rover touched down on the red planet shortly after 1:30 Monday morning.
This year marks the fifth year of the NASA Langley collaboration with Busch Gardens. The program began as a form of public outreach with the intention of reaching a wide audience.
Maryam Amer, a summer intern at NASA Langley, began attending NASA camps and programs at a young age. Now she dedicates her time to promoting the space program to a new generation of learners.
"Representing NASA is important to me as a person, because NASA has always been a part of my life," Amer said. "When I get a chance to support it, I will always make the effort."
The educational outreach effort paid off. Over the course of the two days, park guests could be seen carrying NASA bags and stickers and intermingling with the NASA volunteers and employees. The estimated attendance for Friday was 23,000 visitors, and Saturday saw an increase to 28,000.
Dustin Hitt has worked NASA Days for the past four years. This summer he dressed up in the new EVA astronaut suit in order to pose for pictures with children and families.
“Kids ask questions when I'm in the suit. To see their faces—I love it," Hitt said. "Some kids say 'I love you! I want to be an astronaut!' "
NASA spent the weekend kicking off the next era of space exploration by simply making people curious. It is this simple feeling of curiosity that will inspire the next era of human exploration in space.
The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman