NEW YORK -- Among the everyday sounds of traffic and the chaotic rush of the city, a piece of Manhattan's Chelsea District grew still and focused at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday.
Hundreds of eyes in Eventi's "Big Screen Plaza" redirected from soaring architectural silhouettes, including that of the Empire State Building, to a stage where the four-person STS-135 astronaut crew emerged to kick off "What's Your Favorite Space?" presented by NASA and Eventi.
Between 29th and 30th streets, and parallel to Avenue of the Americas, Sesame Street's Elmo joined them on the stage with giggles, wit and questions for the crew.
Elmo and the Atlantis crew were meeting for the first time, although Elmo witnessed their launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on July 8. He asked how they slept, how long it took them to train, even how they brushed their teeth.
"Are you sad that the shuttle program has ended?" Elmo asked.
The crew of STS-135, NASA's final space shuttle mission, and Sesame Street's Elmo welcomed visitors to "What's Your Favorite Space?" in New York City. The free, public event was presented by NASA and Eventi on Wednesday, Aug. 17, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on the hotel's "Big Screen Plaza." The outdoor plaza was transformed into a miniature space outpost filled with displays including an inflatable Mars Rover, demonstrations, interactive exhibits, video segments, children's activities and more. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
"It was sad. The space shuttle may be gone, but its mission is complete," said Cmdr. Chris Ferguson. "Sometimes you have to stop building rockets for today to build one for tomorrow."
Though NASA closed a chapter in America's history in space with the end of the shuttle program, the agency is already working on the next installment of the story of exploration. That was part of the story Wednesday in New York.
It was told at dozens of interactive spaces that outlined the plaza from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., while NASA video played on a 35-foot (10.7 m) high-definition LED screen.
Samuel and Hannah Foster from Hacketts Town, N.J., tried on space gloves and attempted tooling tasks that astronauts do in space.
Their older brother, Benjamin, was there with his FIRST robotics team. He later was one of many to demonstrate a robot on stage. His father, Bryan, was pleased to be at the event with his children, who have all taken a special interest in science.
Many children discovered their "favorite space" in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) exhibit. There, the engineering challenge involved picking up a potato and dressing it with bubble wrap, rubber bands, aluminum foil and strings to secure it from damage. A tool was dropped onto the potato inside a bucket, and an unharmed potato earned them a cape, a bag and a solar-powered safety light.
Students from the City College of New York ASME student chapter hosted a "balloon blaster" challenge. Rowan, a third-grader, and Grier, an upcoming kindergartner, discovered this to be a "favorite space."
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Elmo and STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
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Thousand visited Eventi's "Big Screen Plaza" for "What's Your Favorite Space?" on August 17 in New York City. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
A scientist from New Jersey, Jefferson Tilley, talked about the Hubble Space Telescope. Earlier in the day, the STS-135 crew explained that NASA's shuttle program had serviced that telescope five times since the program's inception in 1981.
Diane Powell, from NASA headquarters, showed off agency-inspired artwork. Nearby, children built airplanes, rovers and shuttles from Legos or had their photos taken in "space" as a souvenir.
In Moonbase Alpha, visitors assumed the role of an astronaut working to further human expansion. A walking gallery of NASA spinoff displays showcased commercial products used every day that incorporate NASA technology.
Many discovered that their "favorite space" came with the colors of their choice for the Space Shuttle Mosaic Activity, in which children colored numbered pieces to a puzzle that was pieced together during the day to complete a "What's Your Favorite Space?" wall.
Many found "favorite spaces" in the "Journey to Tomorrow" trailer, an interactive environment packed with hands-on activities and digital learning stations. Others remotely drove an exploration rover across a lunar terrain right from Eventi's plaza.
Evan, a rising kindergarten student, found himself nose-to-nose with Elmo after earlier receiving a mission patch from the astronaut crew.
From the plaza, an estimated 4,000 people found their "favorite space" in the heart of New York City. The event reached numbers of visitors that no one had predicted.
One month earlier, the STS-135 crew had been at the International Space Station, approximately 240 miles from Earth.
On Wednesday at 8:25 p.m., the International Space Station could be seen from New York. As it streaked past on its daily routine of 16 Earth rotations, some who watched could remember that they had just met a crew that had been a part of it.
And they had also met NASA's future, and possibly their own on a day when the sights and sounds of NASA had stood out among the din of New York.