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Meet an astronaut this weekend at Astronomy Days

January 25, 2018 GMT

Astronomy Days returns to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

One of the largest events of its kind of the east coast, the museum partners with the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and the Raleigh Astronomy club for an event that has something for everyone in the family.

NASA astronaut and engineer Douglas “Wheels” Wheelock will share his experiences aboard Space Shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station where he spent 178 days. Wheellock is also a veteran spacewalker, completing critical repairs of the power and cooling systems outside the station over four spacewalks.

Younger visitors enjoy meeting, and maybe petting, a few of the the animals of the constellations. Staff from the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) will help you remotely control their huge radio telescope in western North Carolina. You can also meet museum astronomers in the Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Lab who will be sharing the research with visitors all weekend.

This year’s theme is Space Telescopes and Missions. James Webb Space Telescope Deputy Project Scientist Dr. Klaus Pontoppidan will speak on the first science that is anticipated after the mission launches next year.

The event reaches beyond the walls of museum with talks that teachers and other educators shouldn’t miss. Dr. Carter Emmart, director of astrovisualization at New York City’s Hayden Planetarium, will take audiences on a tour from Mars to the edge of the Universe using the NASA OpenSpace system. Lumberton County educator Ken Brandt will be joined by a Mars rover driver live via Skype in his talk on the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity (which celebrates its 14th anniversary Jan. 25, 2018).

I’ll be giving a pair of workshop talks on two other free software packages: Stellarium and NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System. Stellarium brings the planetarium to Macs, Windows and Linux computers. Eyes on the Solar System is a highly accurate visual browser for the solar system and the spacecraft exploring it using actual data from those missions. Come by and say hi!

Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.