A stalled storm system has kept Maryland inundated in rain for the past few days and Hurricane Florence is inching closer to the Eastern Shore. Many things I hope to see and do on the Chesapeake Bay are taking a back seat. I do, however, decide to crawl out of my bunker and check out the Goddard Space Flight Center.
Goddard is the largest of six NASA organizations of 10,000 scientists and engineers dedicated to increasing knowledge of Earth, solar systems, and the universe via observations from space.
The Visitors Center is much more compact, cozy and informal than other NASA facilities I have visited. A cheerful receptionist greets me and asks that I sign in. Other than that, there a no fees and I am free to roam around. Filling the main concourse are educational kiosks, dioramas, and scale models.
The Goodard Space Center also features our friend “Science on a Sphere” which we’ve seen at the National Weather Service and the Space Weather Center. The SOS theater shows a vast array of short films and 3D visualizations illustrating data from Goddard missions in Earth science and planetary science.
Also featured is a “Rocket Garden”. Located outside a rear exit are various decommissioned rockets. Walking the garden didn’t warrant enduring the pounding rain. Though I did duck just outside the door under the eave to gander a little closer peek. The door locks behind me and requires an embarrassing banging to get back in.
Be it ever so Hubble
One of the more famous of Goddard projects is the Hubble Space Telescope. It recently celebrated its 28th anniversary of viewing the heavens. This Earth-orbiting observatory gives us a window seat to the universe’s extraordinary stellar tapestry of galaxies, stars, and nebulas. There is a model of the Hubble and a detailed explanation of how it works. That explanation is way over my head but I certainly appreciate the photos that thing can take. I wonder where I can get one of those lenses.
Tucked away behind a wall is a glass door labeled Solarium. I actually have to ask where the Solarium is and nearly miss it all together. That would have been unfortunate as this is my favorite exhibit in the facility. Behind this door, I find a small dark bedroom sized room with a giant 10-foot screen and a low droning noise.
Every 12 seconds, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory images the sun in wavelengths of invisible ultraviolet light. Media Specialists assign each wavelength a unique color and combine these into the projected video. The same video that scientists use to study the sun.
The droning sound comes from data that measures the way waves travel through the center of the sun. Yeah, I don’t understand any of that either. However, the room with its video of glowing loops and stunning explosions of plasma is amazingly calming and captivating. I visit it on a couple separate occasions and I guess others couldn’t find it because I have the place to myself each time.
For over 40 years, Goddard has also managed and developed weather satellites for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Now if they could just use some of that expertise to stop the rain. I’ve got some crabbing and lighthouse touring to do.