By now, everyone is aware that the Curiosity landed on Mars and that Mohawk Guy was pretty happy about it all. What you might not know is that the Sample Analysis at Mars unit (SAM for short) which is on the Mars rover was developed at the NASA Goddard Site, just outside of Washington, D.C.  They had a big pre-landing open house event at the Goddard Visitors Center and I took the Shortlings to it a few weeks back.  The Dormouse really wanted to attend the Watch The Landing Event there as well, but you had to register for a space and by the time I logged into the website it was fuller than full.  And also, it was scheduled for 3 am, so just between you and me, I was kinda happy it was full when I tried to register.  Shh.

The girls got to sit inside a full size mock-up of the Gemini Command Module.  They thought that was pretty cool.  As did I.

My favorite story about this day has to be when I walked up to a volunteer sitting at the "Goldilocks Planets" table and pushed the girls forward so the volunteer could talk to them about planets that are not too hot and not too cold.  She took a look at the girls, picked up her notes, turned the papers over a few times in her hands, then looked up at me and said, "Do you understand any of this stuff?"

Perhaps a small bit of training for your event volunteers is in order, NASA.

There was also an hilarious question and answer period with the scientists and engineers who developed the SAM.  Some of the questions included:

  • Do you believe there is water on Mars? (asked by an adult person)
  • Is there really a giant face on Mars and who put it there? (asked by an adult person)
  • Are you sure there's water on Mars? (asked by an adult person)
  • If you break open a rock on Mars and squeeze out the water, can you drink it? (asked by an adult person)
  • How long will it take for a spacecraft to travel to Mars? (asked by The Caterpillar, age four)
  • If you could send a person to Mars, how long would it take to get there? (asked by an adult person directly after listening to the answer to the question The Caterpillar had just asked)

The most amazing thing about the question and answer period is the patience with which those scientists answered all the questions.

But they did have a lot for the kids to do and we eventually met some pretty awesome people. Like this guy, who froze a bunch of stuff in liquid nitrogen for my kids because they missed the actual demonstration he and his colleagues had presented and they were disappointed.  So he pulled out all the stuff he'd just put away and did as much of the demonstration as he could reproduce for them again while his colleagues packed up and left.  Then he patiently obliged when The Dormouse continually asked what would happen to various items in liquid nitrogen, by saying, "Well, let's test it out.  That's what science is all about, afterall." And then he actually stuck those various items in the liquid nitrogen to show them what would happen.

I love this guy.

Also, I love his shirt.

There were some other fun activities for kids, like making Mars cookies,

learning how the Mars rover will pick up core samples, by drilling through various candy bars with straws,

and dropping ping pong balls and tennis balls into hot chocolate mix and flour to figure out how the craters on Mars were made.

That guy's shoes were a mess by the end of the day.

Clearly, though, my favorite thing about the Goddard center is it's Rocket Garden.  Because who doesn't want a Rocket Garden in their backyard? No one, that's who!

The Dormouse peering into a model of the Apollo Command Module
An early sounding rocket.  I believe this one is the Iris.
Delta Launch Vehicle glistens in the sun