Monday, April 30, 2012

Just back from DC - The USA Science & Engineering Festival

I have been away this week at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. This is a giant (ca. 3,000 exhibitor) festival that takes place in the equally giant DC convention center A - C halls. Much of the time, I was working, but during breaks I was able to mingle and explore. There were countless different science exhibits covering just about any topic possible, from math to astronomy, from conservation to architecture and robotics. I have included some images, but mostly only those that pertain to aerospace and the general purpose of this blog.  Even after removing most of the images in the set, there are still a ton.  This will be a long post, so bear with me.

Perhaps the most impressive object on display was this, an F-16:

The crew working this exhibit reveled the highly classified power-source:

There was also an Orion capsule used in LES testing:

A Merlin 1 engine was on display in the Space-x booth.  This engine can generate over 125,000 lbs of thrust yet it only weighs about 1,200 lbs!

I was particularly happy to see a high power rocket on display:

This was an impressive level 3 rocket with a 75mm motor mount.  It flew on an L motor a few times, taking good onboard footage during those flights.  The next step will be flying on an N (?!) motor at LDRS at Geneseo.  You can read more about the NCSU team here.

This was a most impressive event.  I estimate that over 150,000 people attended on Saturday alone.  The crowds were almost overwhelming when the Mythbusters got on stage.  To fill a room of this size to capacity, with overflow in adjacent areas of the convention center, is quite a feat!  (I understand that the space was more than 1 million square feet!)  It is great that science is so popular these days.  There were thousands of families with kids of all ages in attendance, as well as visitors from other countries.  Everyone seemed happy to be in one place to share the love of science, math, and engineering.  We even got to see The Magic School Bus!  (It was not configured to dive underwater or into a volcano at the time.)

Let there be no doubt about it: The future of this country is in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  Period.  For more than a century we have been leaders in these "STEM" fields.  We are still somewhere on the front lines.  But our momentum is starting to fade.  We no longer have any manned spaceflight capability and it will take years to fix that problem.  The World's most powerful particle accelerator was supposed to be built in Texas.  But then, it wasn't.  And now the best accelerator experiments are in Europe.  The SKA will be built in Africa or Australia.  Republican candidates gain points by turning away from, and sometimes even ridiculing science.  And certain rubes across America reward them for it.  There is nothing wrong with letting science happen in other parts of the World.  Asia and Europe should be our partners in science and technology.  But they should not be our leaders.  I hope that festivals like this may in some small way keep STEM alive in America, and get the kids of today motivated to become the scientists of tomorrow.  Plus, it is always cool to show up and see rocket stuff!  I have more pictures of  projects that each require a full post so that will wait for another time.

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