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[Child, Science]

[science|child] We went to Mars for a little while

Last night after our return from the coast, [info]the_child and I scooted over to the OMSI for their Mars landing viewing party. This was held in the planetarium there, with NASA’s JPL feed projected on the dome, and a second projection of a very sophisticated Mars lander simulator.

We’d planned on meeting [info]davidlevine and [info]kateyule there, and had even saved them seats in the planetarium, but by the time they arrived the ushers were directing people to overflow seating in the theater. @rick_lovett did find us there. He was on assignment for National Geographic (I think) covering public reactions to the landing. [info]the_child wound up talking to him for a while.

The planetarium was packed. As David said to me in a text, science is popular in Portland. There was a big turnout of uniformed Civil Air Patrol cadets, and a ton of regular people. Interestingly, it was a cross-section of folks. Not just obvious geeks is what I mean. They had a few speakers and presentations, but mostly focused on the NASA feed. Plus there was a giant, inflatable Curiosity in the lobby.

[info]the_child very much got into the spirit of things. Especially the nerve-wracking period of time once the lander was committed to de-orbiting. The room reflected the tension of the JPL team. She asked a lot of questions, some of them quite insightful and some of them inane. Those latter were her bleeding off her own nervousness.

Interestingly to me, she was able to articulate the basic issues of lightspeed lag and simultaneity simply from paying attention to the NASA feed. We wound up having a long talk about that in the car on the way home, and also about conservation of momentum. Newton’s first law isn’t intuitive to her. She’s still trying to wrap her head around that one. I love the way her brain works.

As we all know by now, Curiosity touched down successfully. [info]the_child and I went home and crashed out. (Or at least I did.)

Of course we could have watched this in my living room on our laptops. It’s not like we were at JPL, let alone on Mars ourselves. But the shared experience of watching with a group of interested, fascinated fellow citizens was worth the trouble. The group energy of science isn’t something one gets to be a part of very often in everyday American life. The wild applause and the beaming pride at the successful landing was very uplifting indeed.

And, hey, Curiosity is on Mars, and my kid got to think some big thoughts.

As I said to Rick at the event, history begins here.

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