The Da Vinci Science Center showcases the past & future of space
If you are like most people, and were around on July 20, 1989, you probably remember where you were and what you were doing. Neil Armstrong definitely remembered what he was doing that day because he was about to become the first human to step foot on earth's moon: "One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."
The 45th anniversary of that momentous event was celebrated this July at the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown, and two retired astronauts were on hand for a town-hall-type program to describe their own out-of-this-world memories. The celebration was part of the science center's summer exhibit "Space: A Journey to Our future," continuing through Sept. 7.
After presenting a brief history of the first 100 years of flight and aerospace engineering to a capacity audience, Pennsylvania native and former astronaut Terry Hart recalled his own involvement in the space program. He said he had graduated from Lehigh University, where he now teaches aerospace engineering, and joined the U. S. Air Force shortly before the lunar landing. It wasn't until 1978, however, that he joined NASA. For the next six years, he served in a variety of missions, including as a long-time project partner with Sally Ride, the first American woman to travel into space.
"This was the age of the space shuttles," according to Hart, who was a mission specialist on the Challenger in 1984 that helped repair an ailing satellite and replace it in orbit.
"We showed that man could work in space," Hart said.
During the Challenger mission, Hart also shot breathtaking footage of earth, space and life on the space shuttle for the IMAX film "The Dream is Alive." In his opinion, he said, "The Bahama Islands are the most beautiful view from space."
Despite the beauty of space, Hart cautioned that there were also dangers. "In space the bones start to dissolve; they need stress and space takes that away. The heart weakens, and radiation is also a problem." Six months is the longest NASA lets its astronauts stay in space, he said.
When asked what he thought was the most important thing to come out of the space program, Hart responded, "It changed the way we look at the earth. It is very important to understand that we have to take better care of our planet."
Also on the day's program was Guion Buford, an inductee in the International Space Hall of Fame, and the first African-American in space. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Buford spoke to the science center audience from Cleveland, Ohio, through a SKYPE hookup.
Buford said he was an instructor pilot at Sheppard Air Force base in Texas, watching the moon landing on a black and white television. "At the time, I didn't think about becoming an astronaut. All I wanted was to get back into the aeronautical engineering field."
The Air Force sent him to get his doctorate, and afterwards he was stationed as an engineer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
"But I had to go back to flying, so I applied to the shuttle program," Buford explained. "The Air Force sent my name to NASA. In 1977, 8,000 people applied and 200 were chosen. I was fortunate to be in the group who went to Houston for testing."
Buford said he thinks he had an advantage both because he had flight experience - 65 combat missions in North Vietnam - and because of his aeronautical engineering background.
Members of the audience asked him questions about challenges of eating, sleeping and, of course, going to the bathroom under weightless conditions. To the first question, he said he thought the food was very good.
"We had three meals a day prepared by people at the Johnson Space Center. Most of it is freeze dried, so it has to be hydrated and heated. We also had a snack bar. I was very fond of cashew nuts."
As for toilet talk, Buford joked, "I like to tell people that astronauts don't go to the bathroom. They hold it. Of course, that's not true. We have a special bathroom with hooks so we don't rise up off the seat. It works very well."
Buford mentioned several times how excited he was before and during his missions, and later added, "Because space has become routine, people don't pay as much attention to it, but there is still a lot of excitement."His advice to aspiring astronauts: Like math and science, become tech savvy, study hard in school and get a strong engineering background.
And what of the next 100 years? Hart said the next step probably would be a landing on an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter that could be reached in 5 months.
"The moon 'scientifically' is dead," he commented. "Materials on the asteroid are primordial-the history of the solar system."
There is always Mars, of course, but why? Buford summed it up by answering, "Human are anxious to climb the next mountain."
The "Science" exhibit, which was prepared in conjunction with NASA, answers many of the "what's next" and "what's possible" questions. From presentations on solar-powered nanorovers for excavating and building on Mars, to long-term human habitats for living on other planets, there's a lot to see and think about. As the Da Vinci Science Center exhibit demonstrates, space is not just about the past, or even the present. It is also most definitely "A Journey to Our Future."