Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival Celebrates 50th Anniversary of NASA

June 25, 2008
News Release

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Moon buggies, stardust and space food are a few of the things visitors will learn about this summer at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s “NASA: 50 Years and Beyond” program. The program will showcase the role that NASA’s men and women have played in broadening the horizons of American science and culture.

The Festival will be held Wednesday, June 25 through Sunday, June 29 and Wednesday, July 2 through Sunday, July 6 outdoors on the National Mall between Seventh and 14th streets. Admission is free. Festival hours are from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day, with such special evening events as concerts and dance parties beginning at 6 p.m. The Festival is co-sponsored by the National Park Service.

“Folklore and folklife festivals are not often associated with the engineers, scientists and administrators who work for NASA,” said curator Jim Deutsch of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. “After all, NASA generally perceives itself as a paragon of progressive science, continually breaking new ground rather than conserving its culture. But every work group has its own set of skills, specialized knowledge and codes of behavior that not only distinguish it from other occupational groups but also meet its needs as a community. NASA—on the occasion of its 50th anniversary—is no exception, as this year’s Folklife Festival program will demonstrate.”

Through hands-on educational activities, demonstrations, narrative sessions and exhibits, the NASA program will highlight the skills, specialized knowledge and codes of behavior unique to the agency. Approximately 200 program participants will engage visitors by encouraging them to ask questions of astronomers, astronauts, astrophysicists, educators, engineers and other experts representing a cross section of NASA’s 80,000 employees, contractors and grantees. The popular, Web-based NASA Edge podcast and NASA TV will be present to report from the Festival and conduct live interviews with participants.

NASA ProgramsThe Festival program will illustrate the geographic and occupational diversity of NASA’s 10 field centers and inform visitors of NASA’s many projects. The topics of space science, Earth science, aeronautics, human spaceflight and future projects will be represented at the Festival. Space science program participants will discuss the collection and analysis of interstellar dust, robotic missions to Mars and planetary exploration, while Earth science program participants will share recent findings about climate change, weather patterns and satellite imagery.

Many people forget that the first “A” in NASA stands for aeronautics. Since its inception, NASA’s employees have conducted cutting-edge research in both traditional aeronautical disciplines and new, emerging fields to support future air and space vehicles. At the Festival, aeronautics engineers and technicians will talk to visitors about the work they are doing on wind tunnel testing and air traffic control improvement.

NASA’s most visible and best-known mission is that of human spaceflight. Both current and former astronauts will share their adventures and experiences with Festival visitors. Also among the program’s participants will be the NASA engineers and scientists who are now readying the Constellation program, America’s next generation of human spacecraft and launch systems, which will enable astronauts to return to the moon by 2020 to conduct extensive research and exploration activities.

Benefits to SocietySociety benefits from the technological advances of NASA. While Tang and Velcro are not NASA inventions (contrary to legend), visitors will learn that many other commercial products and services in the fields of health, medicine, industry and consumer goods are developed from NASA-derived technologies.

Society also is intrigued and inspired by space exploration. Countless painters, sculptors, poets, musicians, writers and filmmakers have used NASA’s work as the basis for their art. Several of these artists, who have documented or interpreted NASA’s missions through their work, will showcase their creativity at the Festival.

Family ActivitiesYounger Festival visitors can participate in a variety of hands-on activities that illustrate the many different facets of NASA. Using their “Mission Guide” activities booklet, children can compare satellite images and study the impact of comets. After completing the tasks and determining if they have “the right stuff,” kids will earn a reward.

Visitors to the Festival also will have the opportunity to record their memories and thoughts about NASA, such as where they were during important NASA moments.

FoodwaysDaily discussions about creating menus for space, packaging food for space and planning for long-term missions beyond Earth, will inform Festival visitors of what it takes to design nutritious and appetizing meals for space travelers. NASA staff also will discuss the challenges and rewards that come with feeding a multicultural crew on the International Space Station.

Narrative StageParticipants from all areas of the program, as well as NASA alumni and other special guests, will reflect on NASA’s 50 years by sharing their stories, traditions and memories at the program’s two narrative stages, Exploration and Galaxy.

Also at the SmithsonianIn the evenings during the first week of the Festival, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History will screen films relating to NASA, including “Apollo 13,” “In the Shadow of the Moon” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” in its Baird auditorium.

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum will present “Space: A Journey to Our Future,” which opens June 14. This exhibition highlights current achievements in space exploration—satellites, space telescopes, living in space—and provides a glimpse into the future of human space travel.

Sponsors“NASA: 50 Years and Beyond” is produced in partnership with NASA. Jacobs Technology Inc. is a donor to the program, and contributors include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and United Space Alliance.

About the FestivalThe 2008 Smithsonian Folklife Festival will feature three programs. In addition to “NASA: 50 Years and Beyond,” the other programs are “Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon” and “Texas: A Celebration of Music, Food and Wine.”

The Folklife Festival, inaugurated in 1967, honors people from across the United States and around the world. With approximately 1 million visitors each year, the Festival unites presenters and performers in the nation’s capital to celebrate the diversity of cultural traditions. It is produced by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The Festival’s Web site is

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