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'Great Balls of Fire' traveling exhibit arrives, new interactive learning area opens at Space Discovery Center

Colleen Parith, a Space Foundation employee, points to a screen image showing the extent of damage in Colorado Springs should a certain type of asteroid crash there. The interactive station is part of the "Great Balls of Fire" traveling exhibit in the Foundation's Discovery Center.
Westside Pioneer photo
       A new, traveling exhibit at the Space Foundation's Discovery Center offers about 15 interactive ways to learn more about comets, asteroids and meteors.
       “Great Balls of Fire,” which was developed at the Space Science Institute in Boulder but has never been shown previously in Colorado, opened May 18 and will remain at the Foundation through Sept. 12. It was most recently in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and will go to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when it leaves here.
       Taking up 3,000 square feet, the exhibit is included with admission ($10 for adults, with some discounts) to the Discovery Center, which is located at 4425 Arrowswest Drive, off Garden of the Gods Road. The facility is open Tuesdays through Saturdays.
       “We're very excited about this,” said Travis Schenck, director of the center/museum. “Many people can't make it to the Smithsonian Institute or even the Denver Museum, but we can bring exhibits here.”
       Here are a few of the titles for the interactive stations, each one heavy with graphics:
       - “What If an Asteroid or Comet Hit My Town?”
       - “Dawn of the Solar System.”
       - “Can You Save Earth?”
       - “What Are the Odds? - The Impact of What Size Rock Would Spell Doom for Most of Humankind?”
       - “Did Hollywood Get It Right?” (featuring clips from several popular movies featuring asteroids or meteors hitting or nearly hitting Earth).
       Schenck said the Solar System station is his favorite.
Two interactive stations are part of the "Great Balls of Fire" exhibit, which will be in the Space Foundation's Discovery Center until Sept. 12.
Westside Pioneer photo
It allows users to create their own systems with their fingertips on a screen, keeping in mind how orbits are affected by rules of gravity, distance and size.
       Regarding the possibility of Earth being hit by objects from space, he pointed out that the odds are considerably less now than in the prehistoric era, when a massive asteroid strike reportedly led to the end of the dinosaurs.
       “The solar system has cleared out since then,” Schenck said, explaining that much of the space debris from millions of years ago gradually got absorbed by planets. "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be vigilant.”
       The name, “Great Balls of Fire,” could seem like an oxymoron, in that asteroids, comets and meteors are actually cold in space, but when they do enter a planet's atmosphere, “the friction causes the surface to heat to extreme temperatures and to ignite, creating a trail of flame and smoke,” Schenck elaborated. “Currently space agencies like NASA, JAXA and the ESA have launched missions to map and track the numerous 'great balls of fire' in hopes of protecting the Earth and learning more about the early history of our solar system.”

       LMSEC opens in May 12 ceremony
       A recent permanent addition to the Discovery Center is an “education center” donated through a $400,000 grant from the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. Interactive offerings include simulated launch operations, virtual reality and robotic rover programming opportunities.
The hallway leading into the interactive Lockheed Martin Space Education Center (LMSEC) suggests the inside of a ship at the Space Foundation's Discovery Center. The photo was taken just after the LMSEC opened May 12.
Westside Pioneer photo

       At the opening ceremony May 12, Kathryn Tobey, the Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager, presented Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham with a plaque including a miniature American flag that flew on NASA's Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) Dec. 5, 2014. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor on the Orion spacecraft, and EFT-1 represented a “significant step” in a program leading to deep-space travel, according to Anna Viterisi, a company spokesperson.
       The official name of the 4,000-square-foot added area is the Lockheed Martin Space Education Center (LMSEC).
       Like the Balls of Fire exhibit, LMSEC is included with the price of admission to the Discovery Center.

       Volunteer opportunities
       Volunteers are welcome and needed at the Discovery Center. Experience in the space industry or in museums is helpful, but not necessary. Training will be provided.
       Positions available include docent (answer questions and assist visitors with Science On a Sphere), reception desk (welcome public, tours and groups) and helping with Discovery Center events. For more information, contact Jennifer Picard at volunteer@spacefoundation.org or 576-8000.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 5/23/15; Community Space Foundation)

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