(credit: D. Day)
The folklife of space
by Dwayne A. Day
Monday, July 7, 2008
Every year, straddling Independence Day, the Smithsonian Institution conducts the Folklife Festival on the National Mall. They set up tents and booths and feature exhibits, speakers, performers, and food based upon the themes of the festival. This year the Smithsonian highlighted the state of Texas, the country of Bhutan, and NASA. Usually the Folklife Festival highlights a cultural region, so the selection of NASA was a little unusual. But this is the fiftieth anniversary of the space agency, and NASA has always had a higher profile and more positive image than most other government agencies (it seems unlikely that the Folklife Festival will ever host the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for instance).
Approximately one third of the festival was devoted to NASA, which had over a dozen tents of various sizes. Some of these were filled with a stage and chairs, whereas others were filled with tables and exhibits and NASA employees ready to answer the public’s questions about the space agency’s activities. There was a tent devoted to NASA’s aeronautics research, another devoted to the International Space Station, one on the Space Shuttle, and tents on Earth sciences, space sciences, space art, space food, robotics, and technology spinoffs, among others. Children were encouraged to go from tent to tent with a small booklet of questions that they had to get answered. Those who successfully filled their booklets received a NASA logo pin.
The topics discussed by the speakers and the experts that NASA brought in from all over the country covered a very broad range. There were people talking about the heat shield on the MESSENGER spacecraft flying toward Mercury, astronomers discussing the findings of the Hubble Space Telescope, experts on the space toilet on the International Space Station, rocket engineers to discuss the new J-2X engine, and even somebody to talk about the camera systems carried on the Space Shuttle and used to inspect the external tank for damage during liftoff. I tried in vain to find somebody willing to discuss budget contingency reserves for future projects, but for some reason NASA chose not to have a tent devoted to NASA headquarters. Why doesn’t anybody ever think about the children?
Washington’s weather is not always cooperative during the Folklife Festival. The tents were closed one day due to the threat of a violent thunderstorm that fortunately never materialized, and on July 4 and 5 the skies were cloudy and there were brief periods of rain that drove down attendance. Except for the large numbers of kids, attendance was lighter at the NASA tents than for the rest of the festival. This is not unexpected, because many members of the public are probably more interested in seeing dancing and singing performances than care about science and engineering. But it was still clear during several visits that thousands of people were exposed to NASA and its various missions who might otherwise know very little about the space agency.
What follows are some photographs of the festival. With some googling you can easily find others on the web, including many better than these.
(credit: D. Day)
Future disillusioned space activist. (credit: D. Day)
Space food, no astronaut ice cream. (credit: D. Day)
Visitors disappointed that this is not a moonbounce. (credit: D. Day)
The president flies past. (credit: D. Day)
Self portrait of the photographer. (credit: D. Day)
Tiles, RCC and the neverending fight against FOD. (credit: D. Day)
Space artist Pat Rawlings. (credit: D. Day)
Main entrance. (credit: D. Day)
Jumbotron and the the NBL. (credit: D. Day)
NASA encourages graffiti and vandalism. (credit: D. Day)
Barbecue. (credit: D. Day)
Selling Constellation. (credit: D. Day)
Shuttle troubles. (credit: D. Day)
page 2 >>