Part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Series:
Hearing rumors about the Bhutanese prince's presence around the Smithsonian Folklife Festival was exciting. I spoke with other members from the NASA group about the etiquette when being nearby or meeting the prince. For the next week there would be hundreds of NASA and NASA related scientists, engineers, managers, and other personnel volunteering their time to talk about what they do and what drives them.
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is showcasing three different cultures this year: Bhutan, Texas, and NASA. With the event taking up roughly half of the National Mall in Washington DC there is a projected 2 million visitors coming to see the outdoor event.
I'm sure that the demurring reader would ask, "NASA has a culture?" Yes, it does! In the NASA community there are jargons, jokes, customs, and a common element that binds all of the NASA members: space. Since the nascent stages of NASA in the early 1960's, exploration and science has been an everyday event. You see this on the news, at the launch sites, in books, and presentations. But, who are the people behind these discoveries and missions? They are people like any other. Not the cold calculating scientists often seen in movies. There are times when the pocket pens are present, but in many cases one would not notice if they are sitting next to someone who works on a NASA mission.
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival puts forth the cultures it harbors at the event and the people from NASA were given a new challenge for the festival. Show the public who they are, what they do, and share their aspirations. Throughout last week I saw this happening all the time. The people from the Chandra X-ray Observatory had a great time talking with the public. Telling a little bit about the telescope and what it observes. At other times people asked about our backgrounds and what made us pursue our career paths. We also have a gallery of images showing galactic and extra-galactic objects. The Chandra members frequently used them to give the visitors a tour of the universe through Chandra's eyes.
Even with the +90 degree weather and marauding insects, the Chandra team always had smiles to share at the end of the day. Being able to connect with both children and adults confirmed and inspired the careers we have chosen. Seeing many bright-eyed children so interested in the field makes us look forward to what they will do and achieve beyond where we are now.
-Eli Bressert, CXC