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Out of the Blue
02.02.07
 
Thunderbird F-16 in flight. As onlookers watched, a single fighter plane streaked across the patchy Florida winter sky. Its touchdown at the Shuttle Landing Facility of NASA's Kennedy Space Center heralded the announcement of a new way for the public to experience the excitement of space exploration: the first World Space Expo.

Image at Right: A U.S. Air Force Thunderbird F-16 circles the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility where pilot Maj. Tad Clark helped to announce that Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will host the inaugural World Space Expo. Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The F-16 and its pilot, Maj. Tad Clark, are part of the U.S. Air Force's elite precision-flying team, the Thunderbirds. Clark was visiting Kennedy to pave the way for the Thunderbirds to open the first-of-its-kind expo, which will run from Nov. 3 through 11.

"When we flew overhead today, it was a very humbling experience," said Clark. Reflecting on the space history that has taken place at Kennedy, from the beginning of U.S. space exploration through the present, he called the area "sacred ground."

Maj. Tad Clark, Thunderbird pilot. Through the event, which will be hosted by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, planners of the privately funded expo hope to educate and excite the public and the next generation of space explorers about all aspects of space exploration.

Image at Left: Maj. Tad Clark announces that the Thunderbirds will open the World Space Expo, which will feature one of the largest displays of space artifacts, hardware and personalities ever assembled in one location and highlight the achievements and benefits of space exploration. Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Since organizers are well aware that the future of exploration depends on tomorrow's work force, many of the exhibits and programs will aim to capture the imagination of students.

"Hopefully we can encourage and inspire kids to pursue careers in math, science, engineering and tech degrees so they can be the work force of the future and take us into the next level as we go back to the moon and on to Mars, and even deep into the universe," said Lisa Malone, director of Kennedy's external relations. She envisions the expo growing to become an annual event.

The air shows that will kick off the event are just the beginning of the excitement. Main venues at the Visitor Complex and the nearby Apollo-Saturn V Center will feature a wide variety of special exhibits, and the contributions of the many NASA centers around the country will be showcased in a special pavilion. Organizers hope to have the coolest, cutting-edge displays on hand.

Come November, Clark in his F-16 will once again streak across the Florida sky above Kennedy, this time accompanied by the rest of the Thunderbirds. While demonstrating their precision-flying skills, they will help to usher in the nine-day expo.

And who knows, among the crowd watching from below might just be a future astronaut who will be the first to set foot on Mars.

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Cheryl L. Mansfield
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center