NASA at Richmond International Raceway. Credit: NASA/Gary Banziger
Fans visited Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Va., expecting to only see their favorite NASCAR drivers, but NASA revved up its science engines and brought the race to a whole new level.
Fans learned about the successful landing of the Mars Science Lab (MSL) Curiosity rover and the differences between a space shuttle tire and a race car tire. They were also able to see how NASA plays a key role in automobile and racing industries whether it be automobile brakes or engine cooling systems.
NASA's Learning Environments & Research Networks (LE&RN) education program, Rockets to Racecars (R2R), collaborated with Virginia 529 and the Science Museum of Virginia to bring NASA exhibits and hands-on activities that were open to the public to help educate visitors about science and NASA missions.
"We love having NASA out here," said Katie Gantt, site coordinator for the Virginia529 Kids Zone. "It really draws people in. People love seeing everything that [NASA has] to offer. It's really a great partnership between us."
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Catherine Jaunezems, an aerodynamics education specialist at NASA Langley Research Center, talks with 10-year-old Kaylie Strickland, a student from in Richmond, Va.. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
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Families and NASCAR fans were pleasantly surprised to find an astronaut at the Richmond race. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
Visitors like 14-year-old racecar fan and science geek, Skylar Umholtz, learned how the MSL mission relates to NASCAR - like how many G’s Curiosity felt and what the drag did to slow Curiosity down. She thought Curiosity’s landing was "incredible."
"It's amazing," Umholtz said. "I love science and this is just amazing seeing how it relates to NASCAR and racing. I didn't know it related that much but now that I've been around and know that it does relate ... a lot actually. It's really cool."
Additionally, visitors were able to build a lander similar to the rover and initiate a drop test and meet Robonaut, the first robotic astronaut assistant.
"The program is tailored to helping people understand the science of racing because it is very similar to the science of aerospace in many ways," said education specialist, Bonnie Murray. "It makes sense to explain the science in the context of their favorite sport. We are happy to be out here with the race fans, showing them these connections and helping them understand - how did we land MSL?"
Prior to the event, teachers attended a workshop to learn about NASA missions such as Curiosity and then went to the race to put what they learned into action.
"Actually getting to speak with NASA and how it relates to racecars – it's been a lot of fun ... a lot of hands-on activities. I can’t wait to share with the children," said teacher, Anne Meland.
What fans and teachers learned about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) will continue to impact their lives long after the race.
"Science is in everyday life," Gantt said. "We are completely surrounded by science all the time whether we realize it or not so the more that you can get kids involved in that at a young age so that they start to see that and understand it I think the more they progress and they grow."