Astrofest Celebrates Pasadena As a City of Astronomy

Few cities share a closer association with space exploration than Pasadena. Astrofest is a weeklong celebration of the depth of that connection.

By Mario Boucher        Images: Courtesy of Jet Propulsion Laboratory

My fascination with exploring space began the first time I gazed at the night sky. What would it be like to explore the universe? My parents talked about the Apollo missions and I was captivated by the grainy images beamed back from the moon.

The strong visual style of the TV series Space: 1999 took me to outer space and Moonbase Alpha. By the time the space shuttles missions began, I was hooked on astronomy.

I’ve had the opportunity to interview Astronaut Chris Hadfield and, recently, JPL scientists. Through these amazing people, I learned what it was like to float in outer space and manipulate a rover on Mars.

Given my passion for space, I made a beeline for the Pasadena Convention Center on July 14 to meet other galactic fans at Astrofest. More than 3,000 astronomy enthusiasts packed the Center to experience virtual reality, a robotics demonstration, creative art exhibits, planetarium shows, and talk to representatives from JPL, Cal Tech, Pasadena City College, Carnegie Science, Pasadena Museum of History, and the Planetary Society.

Children got to discover how robots work and looked through powerful telescopes to catch a glimpse of our nearest neighbors. Cameron Hummels of Caltech pointed an Orion Skyquest XT Plus telescope toward the night sky for views of Venus, Jupiter and Saturn.

Jay Thompson of JPL displayed a small “earth” ball that appeared puny and so small next to a huge “Jupiter” display. He estimated 1,300 earths would fit inside Jupiter. Thompson spoke about the Juno spacecraft and the work it has done measuring gravity and performing various readings on the massive planet.

The goal of Astrofest was to create, educate and advocate in an effort to inspire people to get involved with space exploration, said Richard Chute, chief development officer with the Planetary Society. One does not need to become an astronaut or scientist to participate in mankind’s greatest and grandest adventure.

Pasadena is known as the City of Astronomy. Look at all the amazing places local residents can visit: Caltech Astronomy, Mt. Wilson Observatory, Carnegie Observatories, Giant Magellan Telescope, Thirty Meter Telescope, IPAC, Kidspace Children’s Museum, The Planetary Society, Pasadena City College, and of course, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

There are many ways young and old alike can get involved with astronomy in Pasadena. Organizers urged parents to do what they can to encourage their children to truly discover this City of Astronomy and help find solutions to better our world and extend human exploration on other planets.

Astroweek, by bringing to light space exploration such as NASA’s proposed Gateway project,  which seeks to establish a space station orbiting the moon that would act as a staging ground for astronauts to travel to and from the lunar surface, hopes to inspire another public pivot toward the stars like the effort that put a man on the moon.  How exciting to think we might now establish some kind of space station and base located permanently there. Our closest companion in the solar system may have a ready source of water and ice in its polar regions and scientists believe the lunar ice could be broken into hydrogen and oxygen. Now NASA, International partners, and private companies are combining their skills and resources with the goal of returning humanity to the stars.

A goal that seems eminently achievable. Certainly, participation in any of the numerous Astroweek events in the City of Astronomy, will have you believing that anything is possible.

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