Hill Talk: Mars Day Again Lands on the Mall

Posted July 16, 2008 at 5:29pm

An array of intergalactic activities on the National Mall promises to transport aspiring astronauts light years away — at least in their minds.

The National Air and Space Museum on Friday hosts its 12th annual Mars Day commemorating the July 1976 landing of Viking 1, the first spacecraft to operate on Mars.

This year’s Mars Day will highlight recent accomplishments in exploring the Red Planet, including the discovery of minerals on Mars’ surface and the success of several missions.

“This has been a fantastic time to be involved in the exploration of Mars, primarily because we have several missions operating out there at once,” said Ross Irwin, a geologist at the museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, noting that two of the rovers expected to operate on Mars for 90 days have been there for more than two years.

A full schedule of educational programming is on tap for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Space-bound families can try their hand at maneuvering small robotic rovers and show off their solar system savvy on a Red Planet Quiz Show.

Those more interested in getting a firsthand look at Martian terrain can view a real piece of space rock from Mars and high-resolution satellite images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Irwin and 10 other scientists from the center, the Museum of Natural History and the University of Arizona will be on hand to answer questions and give lessons on subjects ranging from Mars’ giant volcanos to the use of radar in exploring the planet’s terrain.

“Mars is just a fascinating place. In some ways, it’s really just halfway between the Earth and the moon, both in its size and its topical geography,” said Irwin, who has been participating in Mars Day since 2002.

“I think people in general are just very interested to see what another planet is like and some of the similarities and differences between the two planets,” Irwin added.

Sadly, no Martians are expected to be in attendance.

The museum is located at Independence Avenue and Sixth Street Southwest.

A full schedule and more information are available at nasm.si.edu/marsday.