It's not often that the researchers from NASA's Langley Researcher Center gather in one spot at the same time to show off their work to the public.
But on July 15, a bunch NASA Langley researchers packed up their cutting-edge technologies, headed over to the Virginia Air & Space Center and did exactly that.
More than two-dozen exhibits filled the Air & Space Center's two floors as part of NASA Langley's Technology Day. The event put some of NASA Langley's coolest, most exciting technologies front and center for visitors to see and experience first hand.
The displays focused on everything from advanced radiation protection to small unmanned aerial vehicles.
At one table, children and adults took turns stuffing their hands into real astronaut gloves. At another, people craned their necks to hear a researcher described how the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator could one day help people land on another planet.
After watching researcher Lucy Lee use a laser pointer, two erasers and a fish tank filled with water and cotton balls to explain how the CALIPSO satellite works, Deb Hicks, a Newport News resident and mother of two, said Technology Day was a can't-miss event for her family.
"My son has been obsessed with outer space and he's been reading a bunch of NASA books and space books, so he's been wanting to come," she said, gesturing to her 8-year-old son, William.
A few minutes earlier, William had tried out MindShift, a system that brings together biofeedback technology with video games. "I wish we could buy it at the store," he said.
For Hicks, who is also a sixth grade science teacher at Syms Middle School in Hampton, Technology Day wasn't just about her son's obsession with space.
"The fact that there's a lot of resources I can use in my classroom was an extra benefit to coming today," she said.
Across the center and down a flight of stairs, Michelle Munk of NASA Langley's Atmospheric Flight & Entry Systems Branch, discussed the Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent and Landing Instrument, or MEDLI, with curious guests.
Munk said she was getting a great response from visitors, particularly educators.
"We've had lots of teachers who are interested who have students who are inspired by Mars exploration," she said. "So I actually have a couple of follow-up speaking engagements, probably, to schools."
Nearby, guests streaming past him, Keith Belvin, NASA Langley's chief technologist, said he was pleased with the turnout and the event as a whole. The museum put official attendance at 1,364 people.
"Today's been great," he said. "It's a really good turnout from both younger folks as well as adults coming out from the community."
Belvin said he'd talked to visitors who were impressed with the range of technologies on display. He emphasized that events like Technology Day give people a better sense of how their tax dollars are being spent.
"Often times we're able to take these technologies and license them with various businesses that develop commercial products," he said. "So telling that whole story, how their investments in NASA turn into real-world benefits, not just for exploration and science, but also for products that they use in their everyday life, is important."
But it wasn't just the taxpayers Belvin was happy to see; he was also pleased to see so many school-aged children trying out the interactive exhibits.
By engaging children and encouraging them to focus their studies on science, technology, engineering and math, he said, NASA is inspiring a new generation of innovators. And those innovators may one day bring their talents back to NASA, helping to keep it viable in an economically competitive world.
"Reaching young kids is really important right now," he said.
Aeris Nicholson, a 12-year-old who was at Technology Day with her dad, Ben, was certainly feeling inspired after perusing some of the exhibits. She was particularly interested in the exhibit that featured Orion, NASA's next space exploration vehicle designed to carry astronauts to deep space.
When asked if she imagined herself working at NASA one day, Nicholson answered without hesitation.
"Yes," she said. "Yes, yes, yes, yes."
NASA Langley Research Center