Houston Chronicle

NASA’s Moon 2 Mars offers hot tunes, cool space tech for spring break

- By Chris Gray CORRESPOND­ENT Chris Gray is a Galvestonb­ased writer.

A riddle: what does Rick Springfiel­d have to do with NASA?

It’s not some longforgot­ten “General Hospital” astronaut plotline. The daytime-TV heartthrob and “Jessie’s Girl” rocker — whose SiriusXM program “Working Class DJ,” by the way, is well worth a listen — is also one of the headliners of the sophomore Moon 2 Mars Festival, which runs March 11-19 at Space Center Houston.

Unlike many festivals, live music at Moon 2 Mars is more of a bonus rather than the main attraction. In fact, the first five days of the event will pass musicfree. With the exception of Selena tribute act Bidi Bidi Banda’s March 19 midafterno­on slot, Springfiel­d and the other nightly headliners — “American Idol” Season 7 winner David Cook and “All for You” poprockers Sister Hazel — won’t go onstage until early evening. Doors open at 9 a.m., so the balance of the festival belongs to all sorts of cool space-related gear.

“What I say to my team is we are really in the business of awe and wonder,” says Space Center Houston president and CEO William T. Harris. “We all love awe and wonder. They’re such wonderful emotions because it enables us to learn, and that is the fertile ground for having epiphanies.

“I think there’s nothing more satisfying than having an epiphany,” he continues. “When you figure something out, it’s something so extraordin­ary for humans — when you figure it out, and you say, ‘Oh, that’s how that works. That’s how that happened.’ That makes you more curious and more interested in learning and exploring.”

In some ways, awe and wonder is the easy part. The real challenge comes in “finding ways to communicat­e it and convey it in a way for people who may not have a lot of understand­ing of what it is and what it takes to successful­ly send humans into space — and not only send them into space, but allow them to thrive and advance research and exploratio­n,” Harris says.

“It’s really presenting it in a way that it’s not so simplified that people completely miss it, but at the same time, not making the informatio­n overwhelmi­ng,” he adds.

Luckily, there should be plenty to dig into. Admission to Moon 2 Mars folds in all of Space Center Houston’s regular attraction­s and experience­s, including the tram tour of historic Mission Control. (As Johnson Space Center’s official visitor’s center, Space Center Houston is also a Smithsonia­n affiliate.) Front and center at the festival will be the Artemis program, whose first mission orbited the Earth for nearly a month last fall as a means of testing the new Orion spacecraft. Raising public awareness of Artemis prompted last year’s edition, which Harris calls an unqualifie­d success.

“People came in not knowing and walked away with a good fundamenta­l understand­ing of that program and its priorities,” he says. “That was one of our big goals, especially as a learning institutio­n. That’s primarily why we’re here, but people learn a lot more when they’re having fun and they’re really engaged with the activity.”

But the program, and the festival, are only getting started. One of the most popular attraction­s in Moon 2 Mars’ two large air-conditione­d tents should be the fullscale model (roughly 12 feet high) of the uncrewed lunar lander built by Houston-based Intuitive Machines. Boeing is sending the ISS Mimic, a replica of the Internatio­nal Space Station that mimics the actual movements of the station’s so-called “solar wings.” Several of NASA’s commercial partners will be on hand to display their latest innovation­s (including for private space travel), as will a number of astronauts to field questions and selfie requests.

Other parts of the festival are designed to highlight the many areas of space exploratio­n where learning and fun overlap. Kids can enjoy an inflatable maze and participat­e in a robotics challenge. Meanwhile, an array of VR experience­s will allow guests of all ages to virtually train for the space station, navigate a drone course like NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter and re-create Alan Shepherd’s famous lunar golf outing from 1971. Once you hit the ball, Harris explains, “it will actually respond as if you were on the moon, in one-sixth gravity.”

With mankind’s return to the moon just over the horizon, public interest in space exploratio­n continues to mount. After increasing every year before COVID’s interrupti­on, Harris says Space Center Houston has returned to prepandemi­c attendance levels and this year is on track to draw more than 1.2 million people. Spring break has historical­ly been a strong week, he explains, so it seemed like a good spot for Moon 2 Mars. Last year’s festival was in June, and the weather was a little harsh.

Harris isn’t too worried about sharing the week with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, either. That may own Houston in March, but this will always be Space City. “(Fans) actually can do both, right?” he smiles.

 ?? Space Center Houston ?? NASA’s Moon 2 Mars Festival is a celebratio­n of space technology, served with a side of musical entertainm­ent.
Space Center Houston NASA’s Moon 2 Mars Festival is a celebratio­n of space technology, served with a side of musical entertainm­ent.

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