Well, what would you do if you wanted to get a first-hand experience of NASA? How about visit one of their visitor centers across the United States!
To give you an idea about their facilities, let’s set warp speed to maximum as we lift off and land at the Goddard Visitor Center located in Greenbelt, Maryland.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center “is home to the nation’s largest organization of scientists, engineers, and technologists who build spacecraft, instruments, and new technology to study Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.” The Space Flight Center is also responsible for operating the Hubble Telescope and the future James Webb Space Telescope and handling “communications between mission control and orbiting astronauts aboard the International Space Station.”
This extensive description is the perfect reason for families who want to find out more about the Goddard Space Flight Center, and, fortunately, the Goddard Visitor Center is nearby – and its existence demonstrates “Goddard’s innovative and exciting work in Earth science, astrophysics, heliophysics, engineering, communications, and technology development.”
Now, let’s take a look at some of the programs and exhibits available at the Goddard Visitor Center. What better way to highlight a flight center than by letting visitors launch rockets?
Model Rocket Launches
If you have any interest in building and launching a model rocket, then stop by the visitor center at 1 p.m. on the first Sunday of every month. Visitors can bring their own supplies or find the appropriate materials at the Goddard Gift Shop. There are restrictions on the class of single-engine models they allow to lift off, and weather can play a part in the status of launch days; however, Goddard provides plenty of reasons to participate or watch others blast off.
There aren’t any fees associated with attending or participating. It is also a testament to the program that it’s been a regular event held at the center since 1976, as experts help with the hands-on experience by providing a “safety briefing” and offer “rocket construction and launch tips.”
On the third Sunday of each month, families can attend this program which is meant to provide guests with an understanding of the development and research accomplished at Goddard. “The Sunday Experiment celebrates major science missions that are managed by NASA Goddard,” along with exploring the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field. Although registration is not required for this event, they do state, “Activities are best suited for children ages 5-10.”
The next scheduled experiment is listed for February 18, so keep track of their events page to find out what will be coming next!
This exhibit takes a look at Earth science through four different stations, encouraging and showing how anyone can dive into science. “The first station offers an overview of GLOBE,” while the remaining parts of the exhibit “focuses on different Earth ‘spheres’ and includes a description of the science, information about what you can do as a citizen scientist and how that benefits NASA science.” As a geeky parent, it’s exciting to see how NASA encourages visitors to actively be involved, knowing it can be useful. This isn’t the first time they’ve expressed interest in shared learning, as they also looked for citizen scientists during the 2017 solar eclipse.
Imagine if you could walk up to the sun, right next to it, and watch in awe as bursts of light jump from the star’s surface. The Solarium exhibit is currently at three locations, one of them being the Goddard Visitor Center, and is “an innovative new piece of video art.” The images are taken from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) which “records the solar images as a binary code.” From this code, the pictures are then deciphered through a computer, with varying colors used to see different aspects of the sun’s surface. If that’s not interesting enough, the images on display are the same ones used to study the sun by NASA scientists.
The James Webb Space Telescope
The Webb Space Telescope is being constructed at Goddard! “Learn more about this exciting mission through an interactive 3-D tour and see what you look like in infrared light.” Webb will be an extension of the Hubble Space Telescope, with advanced technology extending its reach and focusing on specific goals – searching for the first galaxies, observing the formation of stars and planetary systems, and looking to discover life in solar systems, including our own, while measuring “the physical and chemical properties of planetary systems.”
Hubble Space Telescope exhibit lets visitors discover how it’s been studying the stars and galaxies for what has now been over 25 years. To give you an idea of its range – “Hubble has the pointing accuracy of .007 arc seconds, which is like being able to shine a laser beam focused on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s head on a dime roughly 200 miles away.” For other impressive facts, like comparing its ability to see things in space to “seeing a pair of fireflies in Tokyo from your home in Maryland,” then please go online and check them out!
Neighborhood Earth shows how “NASA’s viewpoint from space” can highlight how everything is interconnected.
Science on a Sphere, “developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” projects information onto a large sphere. Many visuals and short films are played every day, displaying “data from Goddard missions in Earth science and planetary science.”
Not only does this not cover everything available at the Goddard Visitor Center, there are also several other locations across the United States where you can visit and explore. Other NASA Visitor Centers are located in New York, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and California.
Have you visited Goddard or any NASA Visitor Center before? What was your favorite exhibit, or if you haven’t, what would you want to see first? It’s very possible you can show up and be amazed by many other things not listed in this article – Goddard even has its own Rocket Garden. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like, and yes, a perfect photo opportunity for Instagram.
Would you like the Geeky Parent Guide to explore more from NASA, such as another visitor center or laboratory, or perhaps a day in the life of an astronaut on the International Space Station? If that’s the case, please make sure to like this page, comment in the section below, and share with all of your geeky friends.
Until next time, happy parenting and happy geeking.