It’s Family Space Day at the George on Saturday: Take your family to the Moon!

Challenger Learning Center Want to go to space? We can take you. Say hello to the Challenger Learning Center and Family Space Day.

The Challenger Learning Center opened at HMNS in 1988 after the tragic last flight of the space shuttle Challenger. A living, teaching memorial to the crew, the Challenger Center continues to teach children about space and space flight and perpetuate all the things the crew loved.

Originally designed for schools and groups, the Challenger takes up to 40 participants to “space” as they experience real astronaut training during their missions to the Moon or Mars. Groups perform real world problem-solving as they train to become astronauts aboard the Space Station Observer. Children and adults are inspired and experience what it feels like to be an astronaut.

At Family Space Days at the George Observatory Challenger Center, individual family members are able to enjoy this memorable experience, too. Special dates are reserved for families to come down to the George Observatory and feel the adventure of space flight. Space Day missions are run by trained NASA volunteers who add to the authenticity of the event.

And guess what? One of those special dates reserved for you and your family to travel into space is this Sat., May 19!

Families are placed on a team and work together toward accomplishing mission goals. Those goals could include assembling a communication satellite, operating on-board robots, monitoring the life support systems, acting as the doctor on-board or navigating through space in order to land gently on the surface of the Moon. But the sky’s the limit.

Each position is vital to the success of the overall mission. And, of course, every good astronaut training session involves having to solve some problems. One never knows when the Sun will erupt with deadly radiation headed toward the craft or when equipment might fail or there could be random asteroid damage.

“Houston, we have a problem” continues to be the familiar report when things go wrong. Family Space Days make the solutions available to everyone.

Interested? We thought you would be. Tickets for Family Space Day are available online until Friday at 5:00 p.m. for $10 per person.

DiscoveryDome

But there’s more! When families come to Family Space Day, we also have the innovative and immersive “Discovery Dome” — a portable planetarium! — showing We Choose Space. Tickets are available at the gift shop for $3 per person. Telescope tickets are also available for $5 per person at 5:00 p.m. for viewing when it gets dark.

What’s better than a day of discovery with the family? For more information or to purchase tickets, click here!

Final Frontier: Free Lecture Series at Rice University

From Dr. David Alexander, Rice Professor of Physics and Astronomy and creator of the Space Frontiers Lecture series:

Yuri Gagarin

This month celebrates a number of notable anniversaries associated with space exploration.  Tuesday, April 12 marked the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight to become the first human to travel in space.  Coincidentally, that same day marked the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first Space Shuttle.  Two historic landmarks in our quest to expand the boundaries of our home planet.  For those of you who are interested, April 12 also marked the 134th anniversary of the first use of a catcher’s face mask in baseball as well as being the date on which the American Civil War began.

In the 50 years since that first flight over 520 humans have ventured out of the Earth’s atmosphere, some for a few days, some for several months, some even went to the moon (and back!).  In fact, there has been an American stationed in space every day for over 10 years!  Needless to say conditions on the moon or on board the space shuttle or International Space Station are quite different from here on Earth with the most striking difference being the microgravity environment in which the astronauts or cosmonauts have to live.

Over the last five decades we have learned a lot about what being in space does to the human body from a wide array of phenomena such as bone loss, muscle atrophy, and radiation exposure.  How does space travel affect humans?  How do we mitigate these effects? How do we prepare for longer and longer space shifts? Experimental stations on the moon and Mars could mean hardy astronauts being away from home for years at a time.

On April 21st, in the final Space Frontiers Lecture of the 2010-2011 academic year, Rice University will host Dr. Bobby Alford, who will discuss the medical and biological aspects of space travel.

Dr. Alford is CEO and Chairman of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, a Distinguished Service Professor at Baylor College of Medicine, where he is also Professor of Otolaryngology.  Dr Alford has also served with distinction on the White House “Blue Ribbon” Advisory Committee for the Redesign of the Space Station, The Aerospace Medicine Advisory Committee (Chairman), The Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications Committee (Chairman), and the Life Sciences Advisory Committee.

International Space Station

Please bring your bones and muscles to the 1g atmosphere of the McMurtry auditorium on April 21!  See spacefrontiers.rice.edu for details.

Looking Back: 40 Years of Space Travel

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy exclaimed “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

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 JFK’s “Moon speech” given at Rice Stadium on September 12, 1962

His speech became reality when, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Lunar Lander and uttered the now well-known phrase “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The journey to the Moon was a culmination of years of work. Several previous missions had launched satellites and probes into space, as well as manned flights and space walks. On October 4, 1957, Russia launched Sputnik, the first satellite to ever orbit the earth. That same year, Russia launched the first animal, a dog named Laika, into orbit.

On April 12, 1961, Russia successfully sent the first human into outer space. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth for 108 minutes. In 1965, the Russians also completed the first spacewalk.

Not to be outdone by Russia in the heart of the Cold War, the U.S. decided to send a man to the moon. On July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin (Buzz), and Michael Collins launched from the Kennedy Space Center on the shuttle Apollo 11. Four days later, the lunar module separated from the command module and became the first manned spacecraft to land on the surface of the moon.

Hubble's Largest Galaxy Portrait Offers a new High-Def view
Creative Commons License photo credit: Venom82

Since then, we have landed vehicles on Mars. We have sent satellites and probes to observe all of the planets in our solar system as well as our Sun. We have used the Hubble Telescope to capture images of suns and galaxies millions of light years away. We have a space station where astronauts can live in space for months at a time.

It’s been an amazing journey – and there is still so much left to discover. Interested in learning more about the history – and the future – of space travel? Come see Dawn of the Space Age, a new planetarium show on the Apollo space missions, the Space Race, and expected NASA exploration.

Learn a few more fun facts about Apollo 11’s mission.

Sky Walking: Astronaut Style

tom-at-udvar-hazy-5-03-resizitron.jpeg

Thomas D. Jones, PhD is a veteran NASA astronaut, scientist, speaker, author, and consultant. He holds a doctorate in planetary sciences, and in more than eleven years with NASA, flew on four space shuttle missions to Earth orbit. In 2001, Dr. Jones led three spacewalks to install the centerpiece of the International Space Station, the American Destiny laboratory. He has been privileged to spend fifty-three days working and living in space.

He’s visiting the Houston Museum of Natural Science for  public lecture on May 5 and he was kind enough to give us a preview:

In Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir, I take readers along for an “inside-the-spacesuit” ride on each of my four space shuttle missions. My most recent was a demanding construction flight to the International Space Station. During the second of three spacewalks outside shuttle Atlantis, I moved carefully along the silvery hull of the Station’s Destiny science lab, hovering by my fingertips some 220 miles above the luminous Earth below.

Creative Commons License photo credit: pingnews.com

My spacewalking partner, Bob Curbeam, and I worked side-by-side on Destiny’s hull, installing the mechanical and electrical foundation for the Station’s robot arm, Canadarm II. We were interrupted by an exuberant call from German astronaut Gerhard Thiele in Mission Control: the robot spacecraft “Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous-Shoemaker” (NEAR-Shoemaker) had just landed on asteroid 433 Eros, the first time a machine from Earth had touched down on one of these mountain-sized remnants of the ancient solar system. Falling around Earth beneath the black sky and blazing sun, I tried to imagine what it might be like to walk Eros’ alien surface, held so lightly by its tenuous gravity that an easy leap would toss me aloft for hours. But a hundred million miles away, NEAR/Shoemaker was there, alive and transmitting. How long until an astronaut explorer might follow?

Near-Earth asteroids like Eros should be our next destination beyond the Moon. Their ancient rocks and resources will be key to our efforts to understand and tap the wealth of the solar system. Just as important, astronauts and their robot probes will gather the knowledge we need to keep Eros’ rogue cousins from someday threatening our civilization with a catastrophic impact. We now have the capability to intercept these objects and halt a cosmic force that has often changed the course of evolution on Earth. To survive as a species, we must do so. Only by “Sky Walking” can we ensure that we humans don’t go the way of the dinosaurs.

More details here, and here

Jones is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has engineered intelligence-gathering systems for the CIA, and helped develop advanced mission concepts to explore the solar system prior to joining NASA’s astronaut corps. He writes frequently about space exploration and aviation history in magazines such as Air and Space Smithsonian, Aerospace America, and Popular Mechanics. Tom’s current book is Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir, published in 2006 by Smithsonian Books-Collins.