NASA Teaches Amusement Park Goers to Explore Possibilities
By: Amy Johnson

Roller coasters whizzed by and people of all ages screamed in unison. Nearby, children played in Dragon Land while others rode the Curse of DarKastle. Over at Das Festhaus, astronaut Roger Crouch gave a lively presentation about space travel, and in Germany, families explored the Earth's climate and found out how high they could jump on Mars.

Astronaut Roger Crouch.
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Astronaut Roger Crouch speaks to a group of students from Newport News Achievable Dreams Academy during NASA’s “Exploration Day” event at Busch Gardens.
Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Madelyn and Nathan Tyler.
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Madelyn and Nathan Tyler show off their 3-D glasses before entering the "Exploration Experience" exhibit trailer at Busch Gardens.
Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Supersonic Science camp students.
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A group of Supersonic Science camp students listen as exhibit staffer Rory Collins explains how to play the memory game.
Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

The “Exploration Experience” trailer exhibit.
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The "Exploration Experience" trailer exhibit drew quite a crowd at Busch Gardens.
Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Astronaut Roger Crouch.
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Astronaut Roger Crouch used balloons to simulate a rocket launch during a casual speaking engagement inside Das Festhaus.
Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

It was a perfect combination of education and fun when NASA's Langley Research Center presented its annual "Exploration Day" Aug. 13-14 at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

The event, which is in its third year, is a way for NASA to spread the word about its mission to explore and discover to literally thousands of people.

New this year was NASA’s huge interactive trailer exhibit called the "Exploration Experience." Using 3-D imagery, audio effects and the latest video technology, the trailer gave visitors an up-close look at the past, present and future of space travel.

NASA Langley engineers, aerospace ambassadors and researchers were among those who staffed exhibit tents that featured educational games and puzzles about earth climate and conservation; a Mars science lab; a G-game that compares the type of gravity you feel on a roller coaster to that you could feel on a space craft; and an exhibit that allowed visitors to see what it's like to play sports on other planets.

For a group of middle school students from the Newport News Achievable Dream Academy, Friday marked a day of fun, riding rides at a theme park, but also the first time they got to meet an astronaut.

Astronaut Roger Crouch casually greeted the students in front of the NASA exhibits in Germany. His message to them was simple.

"Stay in school," he said. "Don't give up."

The students listened as Crouch described odd jobs he held as a teenager, such as picking beans and strawberries, and how he stayed in school and became a scientist, all the while dreaming to be an astronaut. He explained how being color-blind limited his options in the military and as a pilot, but that he never let go of his dream to fly on the space shuttle. And finally, when he turned 57, he flew on mission STS-84 as a payload specialist.

Lee Vreeland, executive director of the Achievable Dreams Academy, said that is an important message for these students, who, because of socio-economic factors, are deemed at-risk.

Vreeland said that, while her students were obviously excited to come to Busch Gardens, many of them were equally thrilled to learn that NASA was going to be there.

“We incorporate a lot of modeling and simulation into our schools, and we participate in NASA’s Digital Learning Network, so they are doing these types of activities in their math and science classes,” Vreeland said.

As the group of students headed toward the “Exploration Experience” trailer and put on 3-D glasses, Kirk Pierce, from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, opened the doors to welcome them.

"What group are you with?" he asked.

"Achievable Dream," shouted one student proudly.

"Oh! What is your achievable dream?" Pierce asked.

"I want to be an engineer," replied the student.

And that is what NASA "Exploration Day" is all about.

"We want to inspire children to learn about science, technology, engineering and math and to show them that it’s a lot of fun," Crouch said.


The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
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