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Exploration Day at Busch Gardens Showcases Science and Technology
By: Matt Coffey

Becky Jaramillo looked on intently as a young girl carefully lowered a solar panel made of pipe cleaners onto her model Mars rover. The girl then reached into a box for materials to build an instrument unit. The box was full of dry pasta.

Guests play the 'A Mission to Mars' game

Sten Hasselquist explains the game 'A Mission to Mars' to former astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz during Exploration Day at Busch Gardens Europe in Williamsburg, Va, as Michael Powell and Brandon Ondra look on. Hasselquist, Powell and Ondra developed the game for campers at the 'Exploring With NASA' camp.

Former astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz.

Former astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz speaks to an audience during Exploration Day at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va.

John Stadler explains the Orion spacecraft to

Orion Crew Vehicle Engineer John Stadler explains the Orion spacecraft to children from the 'Exploring With NASA' camp.

Photo Credit: NASA/Sean Smith.

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"Are we supposed to eat this?" she asked, confused.

"That's supposed to be scientific equipment," said Jaramillo. "You wouldn’t want to eat it."

Jaramillo, who works in the informal education program at NASA Langley Research Center, was helping children at Busch Gardens Europe in Williamsburg, Va., build their own Mars rovers out of things they would find around the house.

NASA became a part of Busch Gardens Europe on July 24 during Exploration Day 2008. Exploration Day was an opportunity for NASA educators to use science and technology activities to link up with visitors at the park. NASA booths dotted the winding path just inside the park's entrance. The booths held science experiments, craft activities and displays on NASA's latest projects.

"One of our missions is to engage the public about what we do," said Chris Giersch, co-host of NASA Edge. Giersch was at a Constellation booth, explaining the systems of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. "Here we can show the public a comparison between the rides and space exploration," he said.

The roller coasters and rides at Busch Gardens gave NASA educators an opportunity to teach space science. David Wright, a Busch Gardens physicist, explained to attendees how gravitational forces on a roller coaster compare to spaceflight. The Griffon, Busch Gardens' newest roller coaster, submits riders to up to four Gs. According to Wright, a fighter pilot will experience upwards of 8 Gs during a tight turn. Astronauts in Orion spacecraft would be pushed back by 11 Gs if the Launch Abort System was used.

Alongside the tents of science activities and displays of NASA's latest projects, former astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz posed for pictures and signed autographs. Chang-Diaz also gave two lectures at Busch Garden's Globe Theater, where he emphasized the need to support and inspire the next generation of explorers. Throughout the day, Chang-Diaz took time to speak with children from the Exploring with NASA camp, a space and science activity for middle school students.

The Exploring with NASA camp paired middle school-age campers with high school mentors in a partnership between the Virginia Air and Space Center and Langley. High school students from around the state spent a week at Langley learning about NASA technologies and careers, then taught the younger students about spaceflight and science.

During the camp, three of the high school students built a game to teach children about space exploration. Rising seniors Michael Powell, Brendan Ondra and Sten Hasselquist displayed it at Busch Gardens, where people were lined up to try their hand at "A Mission to Mars," answering questions about space travel and inching astronaut game-pieces closer to a landing on the game board. "How long does it take to get to Mars?" Hasselquist asked a camper. With a response of six to eight months, the camper moved his piece closer one step closer to a landing.

While a real manned landing on Mars is still in the future, Exploration day at Busch Gardens Europe was a chance for NASA to work with children who could be among the first to set foot on the planet.

"It is very important to make it clear to young people that they can make a career of space," Chang-Diaz said.

NASA Langley Research Center
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor and Responsible NASA Official: H. Keith Henry
Editor and Curator: Denise Lineberry