Todd J. Barber, Cassini lead propulsion engineer
I recently completed an outreach 'extravaganza' in Utah, just before Labor Day weekend. The Cassini Outreach Office supported this whirlwind trip, including time at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival in Provo Canyon. As much fun as it is to do NASA outreach around Southern California, the level of public excitement and interest is unmatched when visiting sites far from the 10 NASA centers around the country. What a wonderful if hectic trip I had a few weeks ago!
My journey began with an evening flight to SLC on the last day of August. I ushered in September 2010 driving from Salt Lake City down to Orem and my hotel. After battling endless road construction and getting lost (Saturn is much easier to find, believe me!), I settled in for a restful but abbreviated four hours of sleep before my first commitment in Utah—an appearance on the live morning show “Good Things Utah.” This 10-11 a.m. weekday show on the Salt Lake ABC affiliate KTVX reaches more than 20,000 viewers each day, and I received the “green light” to be a guest on the show less than 24 hours before show time! My wonderful host in Utah, Nan Black, drove me back up to Salt Lake and we had a great meeting with the producer. I teased the make-up artist that she would have to bring out the heavy stuff typically used on young Hollywood starlets after all-night partying, given the dark circles under my eyes.
The TV appearance itself couldn’t have been more wonderful. I was able to discuss the NASA outreach work I would be doing over the next few days in Utah, as well as talk about the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival itself. After my on-air segment, following the show I sat down with the four co-hosts and we enjoyed a solid half hour of NASA Q&A and fawning over the Cassini image of Saturn in backlight. I would have loved to have stayed longer, but my next outreach engagement beckoned—500 students in grades 1to 6 at Foothill Elementary back in Orem. The principal donned his finest space tie for my visit, so I had to lift my pant leg to show my space socks to him and the kids. (Naturally, this was in addition to my space tie!). I spent about an hour each with grades 1 to 3 and 4 to 6, talking about the planets and JPL missions. The students also prepared a wonderful space montage to welcome me to their school. Except for some PC-to-Mac issues with the animations in my slides, it was a wonderful experience.
My voice was starting to get scratchy by this point, but I still had an afternoon appointment with the chemical engineering department at Brigham Young University as a seminar speaker. One of my passions is chemistry, though I haven’t had a course for a long time. My fondness for chemistry is how I ended up in propulsion within aerospace engineering, actually! Anyway, to “bond” (if you’ll pardon the pun) with this chemistry-centric audience, I spent the first ten minutes telling tales of my near-death experiences during middle school and high school with my chemistry set (on steroids). After reminiscing about mercury spills in my carpet, bedroom fires, dissolved rubber stoppers and bromine clouds, begging for a natural gas line to be installed into my bedroom so I might use a Bunsen burner, etc., I settled down to tales of Cassini, with emphasis on chemistry-themed results at Saturn and its moons. This talk went really well, as did my final presentation the next morning at Alpine Academy, a solar system overview for 200 students in grades 6 to 8. Whew, what a trip!
I would like to thank the folks at “Good Things Utah,” all of the teachers in all of schools for which I spoke, all those who made the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival possible, and especially Nan Black and her family for their generosity during my visit. It was an honor and a privilege doing NASA outreach in the “Beehive State.” Finally, my special thanks to Alice Wessen, Judy Nelson, Jane Houston Jones, and Bob Mitchell for making this trip possible. I hope this isn’t my last outreach trip to the beautiful state of Utah.