Reaching for the stars

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Space & Science Festival at the Intrepid highlights a talk by Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space


  • Exhibits outside the Intrepid. Photo: Teddy Son

  • ‘Defying Gravity” exhibit. Photo: Teddy Son

The 7th Annual Space & Science Festival offered visitors to the Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum last week a tribute to space discoveries.

“It’s a celebration of STEM technology, it’s a celebration of people’s achievements and it’s a celebration of diversity,” said Ellen Silverman, director of public events at the museum.

Partnering with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the festival promoted the accomplishments of the space program and science education for people of all ages, with hands-on exhibits on the hangar deck of the carrier. The Exploreum exhibition corner in particular had a number of different booths explaining past achievements in space like lunar missions and working/living in space, while also showcasing future concepts like exoplanets (planets in interstellar space) and Mars missions.

“They [NASA] are a wonderful partner with us and we always enjoy having them here,” said Anne Schruth, manager of public programs at the museum.

“NASA’s always looking forward,” elaborated Silverman. “So many of their achievements have also led to achievements here on earth ... so it celebrates that aspect of NASA moving forward.”

One of the most prominent exhibits was “Defying Gravity: Women in Space,” a mixed-reality experience located in the museum’s Space Shuttle Pavilion. Guests could talk and interact with a hologram of former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, taking a virtual tour of the space shuttle while hearing about past achievements of women in the space program.

The first African-American woman in space, Jemison herself was also present at the festival on Saturday, talking about her travels on shuttle missions and also about future projects, notably the 100-Year Starship Project, a grant aiming to establish a business plan to further research into interstellar travel. Jemison announced that the festival and her projects in general were about “overcoming boundaries of race, gender, and discipline” in order to unite toward a common goal.

NASA was not the only organization to take part in the festival. A number of partners had experience booths and tents set up on Pier 86 right next to the carrier. Notable organizations included SpaceCamp, the New York Institute of Technology and other schools like Columbia and Cornell University. These tents were mainly focused on experiences that children could partake in, namely SpaceCamp’s multi-axis trainer, a spinning chair that rotates on multiple axes. NASA also had a mini exhibit showcasing virtual reality on the pier, while the Intrepid Museum contributed a small planetarium.

“The goal of the festival is to engage our local community in ways that are educational,” said Schruth. “We are hoping that families will find interesting demos and things that they can have fun with while also learning and engaging with all of our partners.”

Exploreum booth employees Linda and Thalia (who preferred not to have their surnames used), who are usually stationed at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in California, talked about linking pop culture and science fiction to recent planetary discoveries. They also discussed the need to convince children that science is not as hard and boring as they might initially think, so that the next generation can take the baton.

Their wishes were seemingly granted in abundance, as hundreds of people gathered for the festival. On Saturday afternoon, the admission line stretched past the bow of the ship and down 11th Avenue, with an approximate wait time of forty minutes.

Other notable programs also included a panel with astronaut Sunita Williams on Saturday, an astronomy event on Friday evening and a free screening of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” on the flight deck on Saturday evening. The festival ended on Sunday.

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