We attended Planetfest in Pasadena yesterday. It’s still going on now, a two-day event by the Planetary Society timed to match tonight’s landing of NASA’s Curiosity space probe on Mars.

Inflatable mockup of the Curiosity Mars rover.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but it was basically a bunch of space enthusiasts and people in the industry. SpaceX has a mock-up of their crew capsule, and other sponsors had exhibits with things like space plane mock-ups or geological drills. There was a life-size inflatable model of the Curiosity rover. There was a single track of programming with speakers on topics from the actual science of Martian exploration to the question of just why we explore space in the first place. Katie caught the Sally Ride tribute while I walked J around the exhibits, and we both watched Bill Nye’s talk about “Our Place in Space,” which he finished up with a fun science demonstration featuring liquid nitrogen marshmallows, gas toruses, a candle, and Robert Picardo.

SpaceX crew capsule mock-up.

The exhibits for “kids of all ages” turned out to be for kids from 4 on up. J wasn’t really interested in the Martian soil uplift demo, or the dirty snowball CO2 comet demo, but he liked watching the Xbox Mars Lander game, and he was fascinated by the robot that picked up and tossed basketballs. He had fun hanging out with grandma and grandpa, at least, and playing with a magnetic meteorite. (The tiny fragment of verified Martian meteorite was carefully mounted on a slab with plastic wrap to protect it from skin oils, but they had a couple of non-valuable rocks that you could pick up and hold.)

A robot that plays basketball.

A family friend invited us to the after party at the mall across the street. It was divided into two main areas: the sci-fi-themed dance floor out on the plaza, and a set of tables on the terrace above for the sit-and-talk crowd, where the main event was a participatory art project: A group had set up one blank postcard for each day of Curiosity’s journey from Earth to Mars, and was asking attendees to draw what they imagined the probe would write home about.

Planetfest party at Paseo Colorado in Pasadena

Small view of the space shuttle against a blue sky.

When I was twelve, I went with my mom, brother and a family friend to see the Space Shuttle land at Edwards Air Force Base. It was the first mission after the Challenger disaster, and the orbiter was Discovery.

I took a roll of slides using a manual SLR camera and (for the landing itself) a telephoto lens. With the last shuttle mission ending tomorrow, I decided to track down the slides and scan them. Continue reading

Space Shuttle Atlantis has landed safely. *whew!* I’m getting more nervous about shuttle missions lately. In part, it’s the greater focus on all the things that could go wrong. In part, it’s the realization that you know, the shuttle fleet really is aging.

But mostly, I think it’s the fear that, given reactions to the Columbia disaster, our nation may be only one disaster away from writing off space—or at least humans in space—entirely.

Speaking of Atlantis, the Bad Astronomy posted a fantastic photo by Thierry Legault of the shuttle and the International Space Station passing in front of the sun!