A full day culminated in the celebration of 35 years for the Planetary Society last week with a combined dedication of their new facility in Pasadena, now open to the public, and a star-studded evening variety event complete with entertainment and the love of all things science.
The building’s dedication ceremonies included words from Congresswoman Judy Chu, Planetary Society board members, and The Science Guy himself, CEO Bill Nye.
Once underway, included was a facility tour, discussion panels and exhibits, a Theremin demonstration, Sci-Fi authors and Planetary Society co-founder Lou Friedman on hand to discuss and sign their new books.
Donning his signature bow tie, Nye welcomed the eager public with assurances that the new space would fulfill all expectations that a society built on the love of science and space exploration should bring.
“I feel it finally has that ‘this is the space Enterprise’ feel. We’ve got glass! And metal! A mid-century style futuristic bridge of the Enterprise furniture!” laughs Nye. “It’s a futuristic space that’s based on the foundation of celebrating the joy of discovery. And that’ really why we explore space is to feel that joy of discovery. And I hope that when you are in the building that you feel a little bit joyful!”
The new interior’s customized space renovation features an open foyer that includes artwork, archive memorabilia, and audio and visual displays that are open to the public. The central working space opens to modular cubicles and fishbowl offices of the staff that are personalized and adorned with their own science collectibles and memorabilia.
A mural depicting a planetary skyline overlooks a state of the art kitchen. Facing it, a large idea white board has been christened by staff with statements of welcome and marker art, and the public was encouraged to participate.
Jonathon Martinez, 5, of Sierra Madre Elementary, came with his family and was among the first to enter the new facility and decorate the whiteboard with his art among the plethora of words of admiration, inspiration, and thanks already expressed.
When asked what his favorite subject in school, Martinez responded, as if he really had to be asked, “Uh…space!?”
Martinez was also impressed with a unique feature nestled in an old bank vault space in the building. Adorned with planet frescos, spaceships, and displays from the Planetary Society’s recently successful LightSail mission, the space is the new home to the audio-visual department.
Planetary Radio producer and host and the evening’s show announcer, Mat Kaplan, was on hand for the day to show their department’s new digs.
“We’ve already gotten some good use out of this new little studio. I’m very much looking forward to us doing some live web cast broadcasting out of here,” said Kaplan. “We are regular customers at KPCC … they do our planetary radio live show there. But we also look forward to doing smaller scale live updates, I hope, in this studio.”
From black tie to blue hair, attendees donned their best for the society’s 35th Anniversary Celebration Gala “More to Explore” variety show later in the evening.
Fans of both science and of Sci-Fi filed in to see stars such as Jeri Ryan, Robert Picardo, and Lt. Uhura herself, Nichelle Nichols, of the Star Trek universe. “The Martian” writer Andy Weir, Deputy Administrator of NASA Dava J. Newman, National Geographic Channel’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey star and astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, and the staff and board members of The Planetary Society were also in attendance.
An agenda highlight was a presentation to popular science personality deGrasse Tyson with the Planetary Society’s Cosmos Award, which is presented annually to individuals for Outstanding Public Presentation of Science. This year, the award was presented by Nichols whose presence and warm words filled the room with regal grace and elegance.
Charmingly star struck by his presenter, deGrasse quickly recovered to express his thanks.
“I am just deeply honored in what is now my almost 20 year association with the planetary society,” said deGrasse Tyson. “I say to myself, ‘I am coming to reveal the geek underbelly.’ And that geek underbelly in almost all cases leads to ambitions about what tomorrow might bring, and the only people thinking about tomorrow are the engineers, the scientists, the science fictions writers, and the actors in those dramas.”
Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke passionately with Nye on NASA’s plans for the future of human missions to Mars.
Coming on the heels of newfound evidence of water imbedded in the polar icecaps on Mars, Nye and Newman talked of the now even more plausible future human travel to the red planet, which is at the point where special walking suits are in the works to accommodate the planet’s 40 percent gravity.
With now five rovers on Mars and 50 years in the making, the near-future “journey to Mars with humans starts at the international space station,” said Newman, where she expects continued and increased international community relations and involvement in order to make it happen.
“There’s a good chance, that at my age, that I won’t be asked to be a Mars astronaut,” quips Nye. “But there are kids in the audience tonight who very reasonably may be among the Martian astronauts.”
A moving video “Beyond the Horizon” was shown on the citizen-funded project LightSail, the solar powered space data collector and early brainchild of late co-founder of The Planetary Society, star of “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” and science personality, Carl Sagan. Financed by the society and its members, this year saw its launch and deployment into space. A video presentation weaved educational and inspirational archive science videos of Nye, deGrasse Tyson, and Society members, creating a catchy rap-style music video.
A universal feeling of those in the room was best expressed by deGrasse Tyson in his acceptance speech that evening.
“I don’t think that I would ever want to live in a world without people dreaming about what the future may bring,” he said. “We know that the future of our species must include some ambitions that reach for the stars.”
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