NASA astronauts guests of honor at Novato Space Festival
NOVATO, Calif. — On Saturday, Aug. 6, Pacheco Plaza shopping center was the site for Novato Space Festival 2016. The day-long event featured five NASA astronaut guests and a number of space-related displays and activities. The event was organized by The Space Station Museum, an all-volunteer-staffed, privately-funded space exploration museum operated by The W Foundation (TWF), which owns one of the largest private collections of U.S., Russian, and Soviet space exploration artifacts.
The event’s five astronaut guests were: Apollo 15 Command Module pilot Al Worden, Apollo 16 Lunar Module pilot Charlie Duke, and Space Shuttle astronauts Dr. Yvonne Cagle, Dan Bursch (STS-51, 68, 77, and ISS Expedition 4), and Greg “Box” Johnson (STS-123, 134).
The astronauts participated in a panel discussion where they discussed their careers and space missions and answered questions from audience members.
“The astronauts in attendance really love coming to our museum and events,” Amy Young, Social Media Manager and Event Coordinator for The Space Station Museum told SpaceFlight Insider. “The way our museum is all volunteer run and taken care of with such devotion has impressed the astronauts that visit. They love what we are doing here. Some of them get involved! We also have Apollo and Shuttle astronauts on our board. But really, they become part of our family and always want to return.”
NASA and several other space-related groups exhibited at the festival. NASA Ames Research Center brought a Moon rock collected by the Apollo 15 mission and solar panels like those used to power the International Space Station (ISS) to the event.
Meanwhile, Steve Bryson, a scientist with NASA’s Kepler mission talked about the space telescope’s exoplanet discoveries and the spacecraft’s K2 extended mission. Hubble Space Telescope engineer Ed Rezac brought space tools from NASA’s Goddard Space Fight Center that were specifically designed to be used by astronauts to perform repairs and upgrades to Hubble on orbit.
Giving new meaning to the phrase “hands-on”, attendees could put on a pair of actual spacesuit gloves and hold power tools used by astronauts in training. Another highly interactive exhibit was the Apollo 11 VR Experience, which provided a virtual reality recreation of the first Moon landing. Visitors could also climb into the cockpit of an F-8 Crusader jet fighter from the U.S.S. Hornet Museum.
The festival also paid tribute to the impact of space on arts and popular culture. On display were the works of space artist Michelle Rouch, and handcrafted retro-style rockets made by Ira Keeler, a retired visual effects artist and model maker for Industrial Light & Magic.
Several Stormtroopers and other Star Wars character from the Golden Gate Garrison of the 501st patrolled the plaza and posed for pictures with attendees. During the event, the 501st inducted Keeler as an honorary member of the organization, in recognition of his contributions to the Star Wars film franchise.
Attendance for this year’s event was an estimated 6,000 people, up from last year’s attendance of 4,000. Planning for the next Novato Space Festival, scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017, will begin soon.
“We (museum senior staff), feel elated about the success of the space festival this year,” Young said. “We did a lot more prep and it paid off. The exhibitors had fabulous displays this year too.”
Young said there was involvement and interests for everyone from ages 2 to 102. She said it was a community event with people from the San Marin Robotics club, The Buck Institute, the Novato Police Department, as well as their local sponsors Espin Bikes, State Farm, and OnKey IT.
“But our community has expanded to be more global too,” Young said, “We had scientists and engineers from three different NASA facilities, the Russian Consulate, and the worldwide 501st organization. You might say that a community event for us includes the entire galaxy!”
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.