Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sally Ride Science Festival San Diego 2006

University of California San Diego was host today to the Sally Ride science festival for girls. Around 1600 girls attended the day-long event. In the morning the girls visited the display tables and booths set up by local science, technology, space, and education organizations. In the afternoon the girls broke into small groups and attended workshops. In between, around midday, Ride spoke to the girls.

Ride told the girls that she was interested in math and science since childhood. Her interests were nurtured by her parents, who knew little about the subjects but encouraged her to study them. Teachers along the way helped her to build the confidence she needed to continue her science and math education in college. Her life-long interest, education, and hard work prepared her when it came time for her to apply to be an astronaut, so that she could achieve her dream of flying in space. Mentoring, hard work, talent, and education were the ingredients of her success.

The girls gave Ride an enthusiastic reception. Their questions focused, naturally, on what it was like to fly in space.
The questions were surprisingly sophisticated at times. For instance, one girl asked how much younger Ride was today for having flown 17,500 miles per hour for two weeks in space than if she hadn't. It's interesting and amusing that Ride had done the math previously and had an answer: about one millisecond.

Ride said that she prefers weightlessness to Earth's gravity. She said that "the human body loves weightlessness." She said that the body adjusts quickly to space and the brain learns to adjust to the lack of gravity. She said that returning to Earth is hard because as gravity slowly returns on re-entry, everything starts to feel very heavy.

Another adjustment problem during and immediately after re-entry is vertigo and lack of balance. Ride said that during re-entry as the inner ear begins to experience gravity again the signals to the brain cause extreme vertigo. Simply moving the head causes the entire cabin to spin. Pilots flying the shuttle are trained not to move their heads from side to side during re-entry. The instruments and controls on the shuttle are placed in front of the pilots to limit side to side motion.

After re-entry it takes about 25 minutes to restore a sense of balance. She said that during those 25 minutes on the ground before the astronauts leave the shuttle, they are stumbling around and bumping into each other.

Last year after the Chinese flew an astronaut into space there was a brief flurry of news stories about whether the Great Wall of China was visible from lower Earth orbit. Ride said that the wall indeed is visible, as are many cities, long runways at airports -- Los Angeles for one --, and long roads. And of course, at night, the lights of cities are dot the Earth's surface.

Ride was the hero of the day. She was obviously greatly admired by the girls and parents at the event. Her reception shows the inspirational quality of human space flight. Her example will inspire youngsters to dream of going into space themselves and to pursue careers in science and technology so they can make their dreams of space flight come true.

Where will these future astronauts go? The Mars Society of San Diego was at the event to help show them the way to another world.

Jesse Clark, Dave Rankin, and Gerry Williams talked to the hundreds of girls who stopped by their display table about human exploration of Mars. The display table included a photo board that had pictures of volunteers doing simulated Mars research at bases in the Utah desert and the Canadian Arctic. Girls got to experience the differences in gravity between Earth, Mars, and Luna, by lifting "gravity bricks" of the same size but different weights, the Mars brick being 38 percent the weight of the Earth brick and the Luna brick being 16 percent the weight of the Earth brick. Girls could also pose with Marsha the Mars Astronaut. Marsha is a mannequin dressed in a space suit like those worn by Mars Society volunteers to do their research at the Utah and Arctic habitats.

Two Mars Society members, Williams and Shannon Rupert, led workshops in the afternoon. Williams talked about the Mars rovers and what they have taught us about Mars. He also showed the girls, and let them drive, the one-quarter scale, remote-controlled Mars Rover built and maintained by San Diego chapter. Rupert, a biology professor at a local San Diego college, talked to the girls about biology, the prospects for life on Mars, and led them in building a "creature from Mars."

The event was a day-long promotion for science, technology, and human space travel. The day was about inspiration. For more mundane reasons why we go to space, click the photo below to enlarge and read it.-tdr

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nice post!
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