Moon Day in the Metroplex

It has been said that time heals all wounds. Mayhaps there’s more than a bit of truth to this, as I seem to be recovering from my 2007 ISDC experience, and find myself drawn into another big space project.

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I recently got a call from Bruce Bleakley, who heads up programs over at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field in Dallas. The museum is the current home of the Apollo 7 capsule, and does have a real genuine Moon rock on display, courtesy of Walt & Dot Cunningham. They want to do something to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 in July. All of the Moonwalkers are likely going to be off in important places at important events with important people, and the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is not necessarily known as a place for space. This makes for a challenge. So he called me.

And I’ve been going to town to put together a program.

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To say that D/FW is not a place for space would be misleading. NSS of North Texas (NSS-NT) has been doing outreach displays for years, decades even. We have several world-class planetariums in the metroplex, including some of the first digital ones. Alumni of our universities have flown and even died in space. One of my fellow NSS-NT members helped put together, right here in the metroplex, some of the radiators used on orbit at the ISS and we do owe a great deal of our prosperity to the many high technology companies found in and around Dallas and Fort Worth.

Speakers

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The centerpiece of the event will be the speakers in the auditorium. It seats about 200 and has a tricked out A/V system, so it’s a great venue. I’ve gotten yeses from two speakers so far, Dr. James Carter, who has worked with Lunar regolith simulant, and Dr. Ron DiIulio, a local Solar System Ambassador (SSA) who teaches up at UNT in Denton and is going to give us the low-down on asteroids and meteorites. We’re also in initial discussions with Dr. John Hoffman from UTD, most recently involved with the spectroscopy of the TEGA instrument on the Mars Phoenix Lander, but who also worked on measuring the faint atmosphere of the Moon back in the day. His schedule is not good on that day, so it may or may not work out. The museum is also going to extend an invitation to Andrew Chaikin to come speak and maybe autograph copies of his new books “Voices from the Moon” and “Mission Control, this is Apollo”. I’d certainly try to get him to autograph the many works he has in the Lunar Library.

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Displays
So we seem to be in good shape as far as speakers go. This means the next challenge is the displays. In the past, we’ve typically been relegated to the mezzanine levels for our space displays, our World Space Week event many years ago being a perfect example. So I’ve asked that this time we have our public displays down on the main floor. Some of the planes down by the space displays might need to be moved, but there is a lot of room to work with.

I’ve got two main foci for the displays: organizations and schools.

On the organization side, I’m trying to get all of the local space and technology clubs to put on a display so they can inform people about what they do, and hopefully sign up new members. So far I’ve reached out to:

DARS (rockets)
These guys are always good for two or three tables of sample rockets, copies of the NAR rocketry safety code, videos of launches and flights, pictures, and so forth. They’ve worked with the museum before, creating a number of Saturn Ib replicas for a recent event, and the museum is curating a scale X-something (I think X-43) that they might put on display.

TAS (astronomy)

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These folk do all kinds of public outreach in the metroplex, as they are the de facto organization that people think of when they think space in the metroplex. For the event they want to highlight the Dark Skies initiative to reduce the amount of light we profligately throw into the night sky. They’ll also have Solar-filtered telescopes, so hopefully we’ll have some sunspots by the time the event rolls around, as well as some on display to illustrate and explain different types of telescopes.

Dallas Mars Society (Mars)

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A long-time partner with NSS-NT for outreach displays, DMS always has at least two tables worth of displays, and I’ve asked them to focus their display on how Earth & Moon analogue missions help pave the way for a better trip to Mars. They also have a set of the Earth/Moon/Mars bricks that I am totally jealous of. Marianne Dyson told me how to use plastic easter eggs and pennies, but I can’t remember the specific #s of pennies. I could probably figure it out if I put my mind to it (where X=pennies in Earth egg, 0.38X=pennies in Mars egg, and 0.16X=pennies in Moon egg).

UTA Planetarium (astronomy)
NSS-NT has a great rapport with Levent and the team at the UTA Planetarium. We will schlep the chapter displays out to Arlington a couple times a year to help add content to their events, and I was fortunate enough recently to assist them with the Moon particulars of various Girl Scout Space Exploration merit badges. They’re going to schlep some stuff up to Dallas to show off the Planetarium and get folks signed up for their Starry Messenger newsletter.

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DPRG (robots)
This one is kind of a long shot, as they weren’t entirely happy after the 2007 ISDC. (No one came to their outdoor robot challenge, and I think we forgot to include it in the morning announcements). Also, the museum is not too keen on my idea of trucking in a couple of tonnes of fake regolith to sculpt a Lunar challenge area. Something about dust and historical artifacts…

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and of course NSS of North Texas will have their usual 6-8 table enormous space display with tonnes (that’s metric, 1000 kilos and is 2,200 lbs – if you want to do space you have to learn metric, the measurement choice of scientists and engineers worldwide) of free handouts, some video documentaries, learning samples, and more. There are a few others that I need to get in touch with locally, like FWAS, and I may see if I can get some of the TAMU SEDS folks to put on a display to encourage the formation of a SEDS chapter here in the metroplex. Farther out on the margins are longer shots like LPI (no, but they’re going to send materials) and TSGC.

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On the schools side, I’m trying to encourage our contacts at the local universities to have displays on their science and engineering programs (my project for this next week), to capture the attention of attendees, especially the younger ones. The push back here is how are you going to make sure you get the turnout from the audience we’re trying to reach (i.e. middle & high schoolers, and homeschoolers) in the middle of summer? Who wants to do brainy stuff in the middle of summer?

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Well, um, yeah, but, you know, space is cool.

How do I make it cooler? Hmmm. Hardware is probably the best way. That’s always tough, because moving it around always risks breaking it, and you never know if some tourist is going to touch the wrong thing and do major damage. What I’d like to see is SpaceX down in McGregor maybe haul up a rocket motor in the back of a pickup and put it on display along with a display booth. I happened to have danced with one of their PR folks back at my 2007 ISDC (there was a wedding band below the balcony we were on), so I’ve dropped her a line to inquire as to what might be possible. I’d also like to see Armadillo Aerospace, who have their armadillo cave somewhere out Mesquite way. Having Pixel at the 2007 ISDC was a big hit, and I’m eternally grateful that they helped out. Mr. Carmack has been otherwise occupied of late with the day job that actually makes him the money he can play with, and my usual contact there has been radio silent. I’ve dropped an e-mail to their generic e-mail address, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed. I’ve also asked the folks at DARS to see if maybe they could drop some hints with their contacts.

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I’d also like to see some of the space-associated corporations here in the metroplex like Lockheed Martin (which underwrites the Space Day program) and Raytheon put up some technology displays, but being corporations they have formal budgets and schedules and forms and whatnot and trying to get them to do anything quasi-spontaneous without a champion in upper management is like pulling hens’ teeth with a questionable return on the investment in time. I wish it were easier, but it’s not. Maybe my contact at Lockheed Martin can arrange some of the “Fly Me to the Moon” stuff that LM was handing out at the ISDC.

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One thing I am having some success with is freebies, a/k/a swag. People derive a lot of value from these kinds of educational events if they can go home with a whole bunch of free stuff. One of the things I’ve encouraged my NSS chapter to do is get the marketing brochures, the kinds of things you’d find at a visitor’s center at a state border, from all of the local space and science related venues, which we then distribute to local visitors to our space outreach displays. The most popular seems to be the McDonald Observatory out in west Texas, where they bounce the lasers off the Moon to measure the rate at which it is receding from us. Everyone always seems to have good things to say about their trips there, and I can’t wait to go back.

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So I’ve been e-mailing around to different Moon-related places seeing what kinds of goodies I can scare up. Will at Google Lunar XPrize just offered up some stickers, which are always popular. These should probably be kept by the exit so that they don’t end up on the museum displays. I’d catch all kinds of heck if that happened. I also asked if I could borrow their big inflatable Moon display and accidently forget to send it back, but I don’t think that one is going to fly. LPI has offered some teacher materials, and put me in contact with the LRO and LCROSS teams to get some of their EPO materials.

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I should probably contact the NASA Lunar Science Institute to see about some brochures and pins. They’re having their annual summer conference out at Ames the week after the Moon Day event, which I should probably attend were I to expect any kind of credibility for my as yet unrejected application for the position of NLSI Director. Problem is that I have a day job and that particular week corresponds with all kinds of reporting for the monthly BoD meeting, which means I’m not really at liberty to jaunt off to a Moon conference ’cause I feel like it.

So, if I can get decent turnout of displays from both the organizations and the schools (and maybe the companies) then we’re talking about some pretty compelling space content, especially when you throw the museum’s own ample space stuff into the mix. Is that a compelling enough reason to spend a hot Texas Sunday in a cool, air-conditioned environment? Maybe, maybe not. So let’s throw some Kids Activities into the mix.

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The easiest thing is book readings. You just need some volunteers and a space for the kids to gather around to hear another thrilling tale of derring-do in our next frontier. I’ve got enough titles in the Lunar Library to crank one out every 15 minutes in the four-hour time frame that we’re working with, but that’s likely overdoing it. Each half-hour is probably better.

What else? Well, I’d like to have DARS do a rocket building class. The difficulty here is that the museum is adjacent to the landing path for Love Field. Launching a model rocket there and having it drift into the engine of an incoming 737, causing it to explode in a massive fireball (oops!) is the kind of nightmare that keeps FAA safety guys up at night. Launching the freshly built rockets at the event is then clearly out of the question. What are alternatives? My suggestion would be to have the youngsters attend the next DARS launch in Frisco, which they hold each month. They’re on board with the idea, as it offers an opportunity to highlight the monthly launch as part of their program for the event. I would also structure it so that the registration cost for the rocket building class would incorporate a one-year membership in DARS.

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Keeping in the theme of Moon Day, Chaz Hafey, who used to be the Science Place Planetarium Director before Science Place merged with the Museum of Nature & Science in order to move to a new facility in downtown Dallas, and they went all corporate and stuff. We’ve lost a number of contacts there over the last few years, and since there’s little continuity we keep having to get reacquainted with the staff there. The long-term stability of the folks at FoF make them much easier to work with from the perspective of a volunteer-run organization, although I should be nicer to the Science Place folks because they do have the only portable inflatable planetarium in the area. Where was I? Oh, Chaz wants to do a Moon rock session using the real sample disks from JSC. How cool would that be? The museum already has a small sample that was given by NASA to Walt Cunningham, Apollo astronaut and commentator at Launch Magazine. It’s not something you can pick up and hold, though. Luckily, Chaz isn’t the only Moon rock certified instructor here in the metroplex, so I don’t think we’ll have too much trouble. (yours truly is also certified) I’ve also asked if they could send copies of their coloring book (pdf).

One possible extension of that would be to have a certification class for DISD instructors to get more of our science instructors qualified to use these great learning tools. It’s actually an involved process, and it helps to be friends with the local police department for security purposes for these national treasures. The fact that we’re willing to put these treasures into our schools and educational institutions and into the hands of our children should tell you something about the real values that make the U.S. one of the great nations in human history. I’ve asked a contact I made at the recent Science Fair awards luncheon who works with the DISD’s world-reknowned Magnet schools to see if we could maybe get CEUs for the class as an inducement. That would be really cool.

Local SSA Cynthia Whisennand with the area CAP, wants to do a variant of the Lunar Nautics program for middle schoolers. She’s already asked about a materials budget and I have no idea where I’m scrape up the money for it. I also should look at an artsy-spacey-craftsy type thing for the younger kids.

There are other avenues to consider as well. I’ve sent an invite to yet another local Solar System Ambassador, Teresa Moss over at the Monnig Meteorite Gallery at TCU in Fort Worth. If I can get a display of meteorites from them that would be super fly! (Nope, they’re all off on other things during that timeframe, but I did load up on their beautiful brochures).

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One initiative that I’m going to finally get around to is the creation of a Metroplex Moon Society. People are always asking me about it, so I guess it’s time to bite the bullet and do it. The museum is letting me use one of their conference rooms for a couple of hours for the Charter Meeting, so this is where it’s going to start. My biggest concern has always been with having a regular meeting place. Even with the discount offered by the museum it’s still too expensive for a member-supported club, as they do have overhead to cover. This means it’ll probably have to meet at a Library or restaurant each month. There’s the whole drawing up of the charter thing, establishing a checking account, getting a web presence, the list goes on. Still, it will be exciting to have a Moon club in the metroplex.

So we’ve got the rough outline of what could be a really cool event, assuming that all of the pieces come together as they should. Which they won’t. I anticipate that at least 1/3 to 1/2 of what I’ve outlined won’t happen. Not out of malice, just because the logistics don’t happen to work out. Still, that would leave us with a terrific program.

But what good would it do if no one shows up? How can people go to an event of which they have not heard? This is where marketing comes in. I’m used to micro-budget efforts, having been associated with various not-for-profit organizations for nigh on 15 years now, and even going back to the days when I was a volunteer DJ at WBER in upstate NY and would post flyers for my Friday night club music show. From that experience I happen to know that most radio stations at the bottom end of the dial have ‘community calendars’ where they announce local upcoming events as part of their public-service mandate. Intelligentsia like to park their ears at the bottom of the dial, so I need to get a notice out the radio stations.

One technique that we didn’t quite master for the ISDC is to list the event in as many online calendars as possible. This involves a lot of cutting and pasting and typing the same things over and over, so it’s not a terribly popular volunteer job. One initiative I’m thinking of taking personally is to put an ad on the backpage of the Dallas Observer. It has been brought to my attention that the major media will pay attention to you if you are throwing advertising dollars at them. NSS of North Texas is a member-funded chapter, so it can’t afford the costs associated with advertising. There are alternatives.

Believe it or not, there are folks who look at those bulletin boards you see in grocery stores, bookstores, record stores and libraries. If I can get enough folks from the different organizations to put up one or two in their local area then that could have a significant impact by promoting word of mouth. Online networks are important as well, which is why I’m happy that my DISD contact is going to circulate a note to all of the science teachers in the district.

The list of tasks goes on and on. Clearly I’ve got my work cut out for me over the next month and a half. Luckily there are a lot of great space-interested folks in Texas willing to help out, and a lot of space stuff to show off. The real question is how many people are going to show up to check out all the cool space stuff.

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