Science Center of Iowa Blog

At the Science Center of Iowa, our goal is to be a quality community resource for informal science learning where children, families, school groups and individuals come to explore science and technology. To continue the learning outside our walls, we give you the SCI blog! Our knowledgeable staff, along with special guests and local scientists, will give you a behind-the-scenes look at SCI activities and in-depth information about science events.

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Interview with an astronaut

Interview with an astronaut

By: Taylor Soule, SCI Communications Assistant

What’s the best space meal? What are g-forces really like?

NASA astronaut Clay Anderson answered your questions submitted via Twitter, and we added a few of our own at the celebration of Orion’s launch on Dec. 4 at the Science Center of Iowa. Anderson, a retired astronaut, completed two missions to the International Space Station. He joined the Iowa State engineering faculty in 2013. 

Your Questions, Answered:

SCI: What do you enjoy most about space flight?

Clay Anderson: I would say zero gravity and being weightless. To float and play every day, even while you’re working, is quite extraordinary.

SCI: What’s the best meal served in space?

CA: I liked Russian food the best. I liked lamb with vegetables and pork with potatoes. American desserts were the best. There was a blueberry cobbler and a cran-apple dessert, which was really good. The Russian soups were really, really good.

SCI: If you could travel anywhere in the known universe, where would you go?

CA: I’d probably go to Spock’s home planet of Vulcan. That’s where I’d go.

SCI: How do you cope with separation from family and friends during space flight?

CA: NASA does a good job of providing you video-conference capability and Internet protocol telephones, so you can call people. Email was readily available. Today, they have social media, which helps a lot to communicate with people you don’t even know and share the experience. I love what [NASA astronaut] Chris Hadfield did to capture the imaginations of people, and I hope we continue to do that because those are the people who fund us.

SCI: What are the g-forces like on reentry and takeoff?

CA: The g-forces are really quite small, less than 3 for entry and ascent. If you weigh 150, you’ll weigh 450 pounds. It’ll be a little uncomfortable, but it’s not unbearable. In the event of an emergency landing on the shuttle, "a ballistic entry," they call it, you could pull for very short periods between 8 and 10 G’s, but it’s very short. Overall, the trips up and back are relatively easy. Now, I’ve never swung at the bottom of a parachute like some of my colleagues who came back on a Russian Soyuz, so I’d imagine that after five months or six months in space, that could be pretty disconcerting to your vestibular system.

SCI: Do you expect astronaut training to change as we move toward the Mars mission?

CA: It would be nice if we didn’t have language barriers. Those drive up training times and costs immensely. I certainly hope it would be more video-based training, where you can look at something and watch a video and then do it. When you start to travel from the Earth, the communication time gets much longer, and you’re going to want to be more autonomous in what you can do. It’s much easier when you can learn it through video rather than reading a bunch of words.

SCI: What’s the most exciting science experiment you conducted in space?

CA: We did several interesting ones. I don’t know that any were hugely exciting. The problem is that you gather data, but you don’t hear the results right away. We burned some things in space. Those experiments were interesting in that it could lead to better smoke detectors on Earth. I’m big on what the payback is for Earthlings. I required all my scientists who were having me do their experiments to tell me why a taxpayer should care, and that was hard for some of them to do because they’ve never thought about it before. It was really important for me to make sure people understand why their investment of tax dollars is important and what the gain is back here on Earth. I do it on Twitter and Facebook, too. I try to let people know there is a return on their investment. They just have to have the patience to see it.

SCI: Why are you passionate about working with freshman engineering students at Iowa State?

CA: With commercial spaceflight coming to the forefront, we need engineers, whether they be mechanical or aerospace. If I can excite them about engineering, specifically aerospace, for this case, I think that’s important. My goal as an instructor is to work on some new capabilities, new ideas and innovations that will allow Iowa State graduates to be considered a cut above some other graduates by virtue of their experiences. I am trying to come up with ways to make them think like astronauts. I’m not trying to make them into astronauts. I am trying to get them to think like astronauts. I’m training them to be thinkers.

Category: NASA


Guest Post: Yuri's Night - and Iowa's role in the Space Race

Guest Post: Yuri's Night - and Iowa's role in the Space Race

By: Phil Hahn, SCI Member

I feel very honored to have my article on Yuri's Night posted by the Science Center of Iowa. For some time, I've wanted to write something about the great Space Race and Iowa's fascinating role during those exciting times. It was during that era that science and technology lifted our vision of exploration beyond the earth and achieved the first advances into space, beyond our biosphere.

That's why I have become a strong supporter of the Science Center of Iowa. In this awesome facility, everyone can learn about our fantastic world and the universe around us, in a relaxed and stimulating atmosphere. Especially in the IMAX theater, one gets the experience of being "right there," in virtually any natural environment we could choose, including alien worlds yet to be explored.

Science is becoming awesome and ever more important to our daily lives. Knowing this makes me all the more appreciative of the Science Center of Iowa.

Republished from The Sidereal Times, May 2014.

Thinking of Yuri's Night - the celebration of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's pioneering flight into space - reminds me of an exercise in cosmic perspective: One is to lie on the grass and stare up into the clear summer sky at night. Then, the individual doing this exercise is to imagine that he or she is falling downward through an endless universe, past stars and galaxies, never stopping. This experiment is designed to give the participant some intuition of the vastness of space, maybe even (best case scenario) a slight sense of terror.

Yuri Gagarin got his own glimpse of that cosmic perspective when he became the first human being to enter space and orbit the earth on April 12, 1961, aboard Vostok 1, making him "the first person ever to see the Sun rise twice in two hours."

During this trip of only 108 minutes, Yuri was awed by his view of the earth below and the sun against the blackness of space. Although the story released to the public and to the rest of the world contained little hint that anything unexpected had happened during Yuri’s return to earth, the truth was something else: "Just before reentry, the ball's main linkages with the rear equipment module separated correctly, but the umbilical cable, with its dense bundle of electrical wires that transferred power and data to the ball, did not come away cleanly. For several minutes, the ball and rear module remained tied together, like pair of boots with their laces inadvertently knotted. The whole ensemble tumbled end over end in its headlong rush to earth." ("Starman" by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony)

But Yuri did land - intact - and preserved in the record is a charming story of the first people he met after he left his space capsule near a village. The villagers looked astonished and somewhat fearful, and one of them asked Yuri if it was possible that he had come from outer space. He said that, in fact he had, and to calm their fears, referred to himself as a friend, a citizen of their country. This first "space alien" told them that he needed a telephone to "call Moscow."

The race to space, a battle of science and politics

Of course, there's so much more to this incredible first journey into space. Its history, and the history of this era, is hard for us now to grasp, appreciate or even remember.

John Glenn, the American astronaut who followed Yuri into space on February 20, 1962, noted, "There was this fear that perhaps communism was the wave of the future. The astronauts, all of us, really believed we were locked in a battle of democracy versus communism, where the winner would dominate the world."

  • After Russia stunned the world with Sputnik 1, Moscow was soon able to announce another achievement, sending the first living being, a dog named Laika ("Barker"), into orbit aboard Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957.
  • The United States then launched its own first satellite, Explorer 1, into space (a much smaller satellite than either Sputnik1 or Sputnik 2) on January 31, 1958.
  • In 1959, Russia attempted a moon mission three times: Luna I missed its target and went into orbit around the sun, Luna II landed on the moon and, finally, Luna III took a photograph, for the first time ever, of the backside of the moon.

By the end of the 1950's, though, one big event remained almost unimaginably important because it had not yet happened -- no human being had ever been sent into space. So the tension was great, and it was "full steam ahead!"

If there ever was any humor during this somber era, it had to have been when Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev took special note of the first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1. Weighing only 30.8 pounds, it was definitely a lighter load than either Sputnik I or Sputnik II, which weighed 184.3 pounds and 1,121 pounds, respectively. So Khrushchev dubbed the American satellite a “grapefruit.” However, this "grapefruit," although smaller than its Russian counterparts, had one powerful bonus: It carried lightweight instrumentation that discovered radiation belts around the earth – and the instrument was developed by none other than James Van Allen at theUniversity of Iowa (hence,the name: Van Allen Belts).

Khrushchev goes "corn crazy" in Iowa

Of course, there were other realities in the world during the great Space Race. The U.S. and the USSR, the two dominant powers on the globe, seemed to be at a standoff, each wondering about and studying the other. Maybe that's why they decided to "take a break" in September of 1959, when a Soviet delegation came to the United States for a visit.

The Russian delegation toured Iowa, including a one-day visit to the farm of Roswell Garst, located just outside Coon Rapids. (From what I've heard, security was extremely tight, military posts located at points every mile along the way.)

Garst had invited his friend Khrushchev to see American agriculture firsthand. Garst was the founder of a successful seed corn company, had corresponded with the heads of state in Eastern Europe, and had visited Russia. He was selling the Soviets on American agricultural practices and technology. And it worked. During the visit, when the delegation was out walking the fields, Khrushchev lofted a large ear of corn and uttered his famous line (in Russian), "How do you do this?"

It seemed for a while that the space race had been put on the shelf, replaced by another race: agriculture.

Khrushchev initiated an ambitious program to raise corn in Russia. In fact, many Russians referred to Khrushchev as having gone “corn crazy.” After all, raising food is a necessity to any society... traveling into space is not.

Yuri's infamous flight

However, the further exploration of outer space continued to exert its magic influence on the thoughts and dreams of Earth's inhabitants until, finally, another first: On April 12, 1961, a young cosmonaut by the name of Yuri Gagarin waited impatiently in a space module aboard a powerful Vostok 1 rocket somewhere in a secluded and secret part of Russia.

Yuri's tension must have been excruciating, fueled by the expectation that he could, if he survived this unknown ordeal, be the first human being rocketed into space, into orbit around the earth. One can only wonder what his thoughts were. Maybe they included flashbacks to his childhood or to the incredibly rigorous training he underwent for cosmonaut. Or maybe he thought about Laika, the little dog who became the first living being from Earth sent into space, who died in orbit when her space module overheated. Whatever he experienced during those final moments on the launching pad, his patience finally broke. He cried out, "Let's go!"

Whatever his first moments of this experience were, there must have been an eerie feeling of familiarity. Yuri had already experienced the crushing load of G's during many training sessions as Russian scientists pushed him to the limits.

This time, though, it was for real, and he was being lifted up into orbit to obtain that awesome view with its incredibly unique perspective: the earth below, the sun rising twice in two hours.

Category: NASA


Celebrate Solar Week!

Make a solar cooker at home or in your classroom with a pizza box, aluminum foil and a few other supplies!

Make a solar cooker at home or in your classroom with a pizza box, aluminum foil and a few other supplies!

By: Richard Miles, SCI Programs Coordinator

Next week is Solar Week, and everyone can participate!

Each day of Solar Week (October 21-25) will focus on a different aspect of solar science. At the Solar Week website, you will find games, activities, and a message board where you can interact with solar scientists. Teachers also can find sun-related curriculum for their classroom!

On Friday, October 25, and Saturday, October 26, SCI will be participating in Solar Week by featuring various solar activities and demos throughout the day. Visitors will be able look at the Sun through solar telescopes, see how sunlight can change the color of some materials and even witness how the sun’s energy can be harnessed to melt a copper penny! Check out our Daily Program Guide for details.

For anyone interested in doing some cool solar activities at home or in the classroom, you can find several here. (And, once NASA is back online, here.) But for starters, here’s one of my favorite DIY solar activities – it lets you harness the Sun’s energy to make your very own oven!

Solar Cooker Activity


  • Pizza Box (empty and clean)
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Black Paper
  • Saran Wrap
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Hot dogs or s’mores


  • Close the pizza box and use the ruler to draw a 9” by 9” square opening in the center of the lid.
  • Using the scissors, cut along three of the lines you just drew on the lid. By leaving one side uncut, you will have created a cardboard flap in the lid of your box.
  • Wrap aluminum foil around the cardboard flap of your box. The bottom side of the flap should be completely covered with aluminum foil. You can use tape (or glue) to hold the aluminum foil on the flap.
  • Lift the flap, and stretch saran wrap completely across the 9” by 9” opening in the pizza box. Use tape to completely seal the opening with the Saran wrap.
  • Now, open the pizza box and cover the inside and bottom of the box with aluminum foil.
  • Tape a piece of black paper on top of the foil in the bottom of the box. (You can paint or color a sheet of paper black if you want, or black cloth will work fine too.)
  • Place a paper plate on top of the black paper in your box.
  • Place a hotdog or s’more on the paper plate.
  • Close the pizza box and use the unsharpened pencil to prop open the flap in your lid.
  • Place the box in the Sun so that the foil on the flap reflects onto the food in your pizza box (you may have to adjust the way the pencil holds the flap open to accomplish this).
  • Check on your food every 10 minutes or so until it is warm.

WARNING: You should only attempt to cook and consume items in this oven that are pre-cooked. This oven is only intended to warm pre-cooked food and is not safe for cooking raw ingredients.

Respect the sun… don’t stare at it!

One more thing I want to mention about the Sun is that it’s very important to respect how powerful the Sun’s energy can be. Please do not attempt to look at the Sun directly in any way, and do not try to focus the Sun’s energy with lenses or magnifying glasses. Doing so could result in serious eye injury or fire.

I hope you have fun with the solar cooker activity, and I hope you will come down to celebrate Solar Week with us here at the Science Center of Iowa!


Richard Miles is a Programs Coordinator at SCI and our resident astronomy expert. As part of his job, Richard presents live science programs to SCI participants and helps develop new programming. He studied physics and astronomy at Drake University and Iowa State University. Richard worked at SCI from 1992-2002 and returned to SCI in September of 2011.

Category: NASA


What would you ask an astronaut?

What would you ask an astronaut?

By: Emilee Richardson, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

What would you ask an astronaut? I found myself asking that question this week as I prepared to interview Peggy Whitson, pioneering female astronaut and SCI’s second-ever Scientist in Residence.

Peggy Whitson was the first female commander of the International Space Station. She holds the records for the woman with the most time in space (377 days) and most time spacewalking (39 hours). She also was the first and only female Chief of the Astronaut Corps ("the queen bee of astronauts"). She gave up that role earlier this year so she could have the chance to fly again. Oh, and she’s an Iowan! Peggy Whitson got her start as an Iowa farmgirl, born and raised near Mt. Ayr, Iowa.

So what would you ask this amazing woman? In order to make the most of my time with her, I opened it up to the collective creativity of SCI’s Facebook and Twitter followers, the SCI staff and a handful of my nerdiest friends.

I didn’t get through all of my questions in the 15 minutes I had to sit down with her – believe me, I could have listened to her stories for days – but I hope you enjoy these insights from one of the few people who has left the planet Earth to do something most of us have only dreamed about.

Here's my interview with Peggy Whitson, astronaut:


Emilee Richardson: Let's start with the basics. What's your educational background?

Peggy Whitson: I went to Iowa Wesleyan College and got a double major in biology and chemistry and then went to graduate school and got my PhD in biochemistry. It was the right combination of challenging and interesting for me.

ER: Do you feel like that background helped you to become an astronaut?

PW: Not specifically that background – I think any background in science, technology, engineering, math can be applicable to what we do. And actually, we specifically pick a group of astronauts of diverse backgrounds so that we have different experience bases to draw from and different expertise.

I think one of the strengths of our office is that we have is we have so many different backgrounds. And that’s why when a young person asks me what they should become, I tell them, "Pick some field – science, technology, engineering, math – and pick the one you like the most and be really, really good at it. ‘Cause you’ve gotta have fun on the way too."

Some years, we need more MDs; some years, we need more pilots; some years, we need more flight test engineers; some years, we need biochemists, even!

ER: Can you explain a little bit about what you do when you’re not in space?

PW: Actually, most of our job is not in space, unfortunately. [laughs]

But we tend to support the crews that are in training to fly in space – so we do procedure validations and review training to make sure that when the crew member gets there… The crew members travel all over the world. We train in five different countries to do these spaceflights, and so there’s a lot of travel involved. And when the crew member gets there and ready to train, we want to have that training optimized, and so we have other astronauts who help prepare the training and refine it and make sure it’s going to be effective for the crew members.

We have crew members who are "capcoms" – it’s an old term for capsule communicators back from the Mercury-Apollo era – and those are the people that interface between the flight director who runs Mission Control and the crew onboard, and they’re kind of the voice of Mission Control. So we have our folks in those positions as well. We have various organizations within the Astronaut Office that are lined up with the various different programs, so we have folks who are working in the commercial crew transportation development, who are interfacing with these new commercial providers, providing their expertise and insights and you know, "hey, this works in microgravity… this doesn’t," so that they’ll have a head start on going the right direction and having the most effective, operationally-relevant vehicle when they get there. We also have the new heavy launch systems that are being developed, and we have crew members representing us there.

So we’re represented around the agency in the different various boards and various meetings in all the different programs.

ER: So there’s a lot going on on the ground! Can you talk a little about when you knew you wanted to be an astronaut and if someone inspired and helped you along the way?

PW: When I was nine years old, I watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon and thought, "Wow – Cool job!" [laughs] And I think, as anyone would, many young people at the time thought "very cool job."

But it became a goal of mine when I graduated from high school, and that was the first year they picked female astronauts. I think that’s when it changed from being a dream to being a goal for me. Luckily, I had no idea how hard it would be to get in. So I just put my head down and tried to do it, and it worked out for me.

ER: That ties in perfectly to my next question that came from Facebook… As children, many of us dream of exploring space. Is it everything you imagined it to be?

PW: Ah. Interestingly, I was probably in space for like three days and every single expectation I had for being in space was exceeded – like orders of magnitude. It was just so phenomenal being there – so much better than anything I’d dreamed about or thought it might be. So it was very special to have it be so much more.

ER: Is there one thing or a couple of things that stand out to you – where you thought, "Whoa – I’m in space"?

PW: Well I think that first glimpse out the window is always pretty breathtaking.

On my first launch, the thing I’m worried most about is not screwing up. [laughs] And my first task, I was in the middeck and I had to get my helmet and gloves off give them to Valeri, float up to the flight deck and pull out the camera and the video-recording device so that we could record as we separated from the external tank to record any damage or just what the condition of the tank was.

That happens very quickly once you reach orbit, so as soon as they said we were there, I’m unstrapping, getting my gloves off and my helmet off – and of course, everything’s floating… you know, which is different – and then you float upstairs and you look out the window and you’re like, "What was I supposed to be doing?" [laughs] It was just a breathtaking view. I use the analogy that it’s like living your whole life in semi-darkness and somebody turned the light on.

ER: That’s amazing. That’s one of my bucket list goals – to see Earth from space. Speaking of dreams: Do you dream any differently in space?

PW: You know, I don’t remember my dreams, so I can’t really say that I dream differently. I still don’t remember them... on the Earth or in space. So, no.

ER: Okay, I had to ask…

You go through so much training for your journey. Is there one thing that you were not prepared for?

PW: We do a lot of training, but you really can’t train for just being in zero gravity.

We have what’s called a KC-135, so you get exposed to 30 seconds of free-fall, basically, and then you know, it’s two Gs and 30 seconds of free-fall. But with the two Gs in the middle, it’s not a very pleasant experience, which is why the KC-135 is called the "vomit comet." So you can’t really train for that. And everything involves floating and gravity, so when you’re trying to do a task, everything has to be velcroed down or in a bag or contained somehow – otherwise, it will float away!

What’s interesting, I think, is how your brain works… Whichever direction your head’s pointing is up, so when you lose track of a tool, you automatically look down. And of course, in space, you know that’s not necessarily the direction it’s going to go. So a lot of times, you can't find a tool and you’ll turn sideways – turn 90 degrees – and you’re like, "Oh, it’s right there in front of me." But somehow, your brain doesn’t quite figure it out. And even after being in space, the only thing that changes is that you know quicker to just change your orientation and you’ll find that thing. So you learn to trick your brain.

ER: You talked about this a little yesterday [at Café Sci], but for the blog, I wanted to hear again about your favorite science experiments that you’ve been a part of in space.

PW: Ah, my favorite science experiments… Well, obviously, a farmer’s daughter, I really enjoyed the soybean experiment. That was a lot of fun for me. My dad was growing soybeans on the ground, and I’d compare stories with him about my soybeans. And it was really interesting because the container was only about a foot and a half tall, and once the soybeans reached the top, they turned around and went the other direction. So just interesting observations like that were a lot of fun.

But the experiments that I enjoyed the most, I think, are the ones that were most hands-on. So I liked doing the diagnostic ultrasound. I would work with an expert on the ground, and he would tell me how to change my hand position or whatever to get the image he wanted to see so we could visualize kidneys and bladder, heart and just go through various organs and visualize them so that we could potentially use them as a diagnostic tool. So that was fun for me because it’s kind of an art to see what they’re talking about – what the ground team is looking for – and then be able to manipulate the device to show what they need to see.

One of the other experiments, which I have no real background in but I really enjoyed, was looking at this colloidal suspension of iron. So basically, it’s a liquid suspension of iron molecules. And if you put an electromagnetic field around it, it will actually form a solid. And they’re looking at that type of technology for use in suspension bridges or shock-absorbers and things like that on the ground. So they’re trying to understand a lot of the physical properties of it and the physics of how it works and what changes it. And we obviously were using gravity as our variable from what the ground team was using. My mistake one day: I set the frequency of the electromagnetic field up at 2 instead of 20 (‘cause I couldn’t see the decimal point). So on the ground – instead of a solid structure – they saw this structure that formed a wave pattern... a pulsating wave pattern that they hadn’t seen on the ground. So after we completed all of the initial investigation at the 20 Hz frequency, then we went back and repeated them at 2 to get some more information on a behavior and a characteristic that they weren’t expecting. Because they had looked at that frequency on the ground and not seen anything unusual. So they were pretty excited about it as well.

ER: Accidental science?

PW: Yeah, and actually, a lot of the times in the laboratory, the most interesting research is research where you say, "I wonder why that happened," and trying to find out the answers. That is what research is about, and you need the time to do that. And having a platform like the International Space Station that’s orbiting and can do these types of experiments is what makes it unique.

ER: We have a lot of fun here watching Don Pettit’s videos.

PW: Good! I’m glad you watch those. "Science Off the Sphere." Those have turned out really nice – I really enjoy them too.

ER: Now for a few questions focused a little more on SCI and our mission… What do you think the benefits of having traveling exhibits like Facing Mars are for young people?

PW: Well, I think it’s the exposure that’s important. How would you envision a farmgirl from Iowa becoming a commander on ISS? It was just the exposure – the impact of seeing on TV the men walking on the moon – that was a very monumental moment for me that opened up my venue of what was possible in the world.

So I think traveling exhibits take new ideas out to the community – to the young people – and give them some exposure to something that they’re not seeing on a day-to-day basis. And I think the more we can do that, the more we will help inspire our young people to do new and different things – hopefully in the STEM fields, where we really need a lot more young people getting excited.

ER: Have you seen any impact following Curiosity's latest mission to Mars?

PW: Yeah. Well, not directly, but I think that NASA’s getting a lot of really good publicity with that, which I think is important – it’s great.

I think people underestimate how difficult some of the things we do are. And the fact that, you know, only 30 percent of the vehicles have ever successfully landed on Mars... it’s really that difficult. The other 70 percent either don’t hit Mars or they hit Mars in such a way that they aren’t actually functional afterwards. So it’s really unique – it’s very special – that we’ve got a vehicle out there working, collecting data. It’s really exciting. It’s the next step. It’s where we want to go. We need to know things about Mars before we actually put our habitat there and do our research from there.

ER: And since we’re out of time, my last question: What’s your advice to young people dreaming of becoming involved in NASA’s space programs?

PW: Well obviously, I want lots of young people who are interested in these fields – in science, technology, engineering, math. We need really excited, enthusiastic people to help us do the next steps of exploration. There’s always lots and lots of challenges out there, and it’s going to take some real ingenuity and some real excitement and vigor to solve all of our problems.


The Science Center of Iowa's Scientist in Residence program brings prominent scientists to Des Moines so that children will begin to see new opportunities in STEM careers. Learn more at

Category: NASA


Curiosity... It inspires us all.

Like my shirt? If you want one for yourself, we sell them in SCI's A-Ha! Gift Store!

Like my shirt? If you want one for yourself, we sell them in SCI's A-Ha! Gift Store!

By: Emilee Richardson, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

It’s been five days since NASA’s latest Mars rover, Curiosity, made its much-anticipated landing on the Red Planet. And five days later, I still haven't settled down!

What made this mission so captivating was that for the first time, the public could follow along with the action... live. (Minus the 14-minute delay that it takes for data to reach us from Mars, of course.) NASA did a great job of building the anticipation, and they followed through by live-streaming and live-tweeting the whole event. (Keep in mind, when Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004, YouTube didn’t even exist. Crazy, right?)

So yes, I stayed up past midnight to watch the landing via NASA’s live video stream. And yes, I was glued to my monitor in anticipation as Eyes On the Sky, the computer simulation, showed Curiosity performing its impossibly difficult and risky Entry Decent and Landing (EDL) maneuvers. And yes, I’ve been geeking out for the past five days as new images and information are transmitted back to Earth. But the thing that made me most excited?

What made me most excited was how EVERYONE was into it. Everyone was talking about it. Everyone was excited about Mars – about space – about science! The mission was remarkable, but the response it got was equally as remarkable.

From the minute I sat down at my laptop around 11:00 pm on August 5, my Twitter stream was almost exclusively focused on @MarsCuriosity. And it only got better. My fingers could barely type and click fast enough to keep up with the new information from NASA and the nearly instantaneous reactions from the public. But as MSL began its "7 Minutes of Terror," the tweets slowed down… Everyone was holding their breath and watching their screens.

“We have touchdown – We are on Mars.”

With that, we were all back at it. Tweeting, posting, commenting. Sharing the excitement of the feat that had just been accomplished... an incredible mission that started with something as simple as curiosity.

I’m not ready to let that excitement go yet. I want to keep reliving it. So here are some of my favorite tweets from that historic night. [Full disclosure: @emileeann is me!]


Acronym Decoder:

Since Twitter only allows 140 characters, acronyms are used heavily. The rest of the post will make much more sense if you know what people are talking about!

MSL = Mars Science Laboratory, the name used for the spacecraft that carried Curiosity on its journey. Common consensus is that MSL was the spacecraft; Curiosity is the rover.

JPL = Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the U.S. center for robotic exploration in Pasadena, California, where Curiosity was built.

EDL = Entry, Decent and Landing, the mission phase from when the spacecraft hits the top of the Martian atmosphere to when it reaches the ground, as described JPL's video "7 MInutes of Terror."


Anticipation Builds...

It started early on Sunday

"The Olympics is cool and all but today NASA is lowering a car sized rover onto Mars using nylon strings attached to a rocket powered shelf." -Catherine @CatherineQ 4:52 am

The Science Center was into it

"Tonight, much like an Olympic gymnast, @MarsCuriosity needs to "stick the landing." " -Science Center of IA ‏@SCIOWA 7:35 pm

I was into it

"YOU GUYS, there's a rover landing on MARS in like four hours!!" -Emilee Richardson @emileeann ‏8:13 pm

Then Curiosity itself got in on the action!

"#MSL is currently moving 362 times faster than Usain Bolt! The Spacecraft is still accelerating until hitting Entry Interface... #Olympics " -MSL Curiosity ‏@MSL_101 9:00 pm

(Note: Curiosity was not actually tweeting from space. But it is a verified NASA account, and it was awesome.)

My favorite science blogger, Emily Lakdawalla, was live-blogging from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) when, coincidentally, the International Space Station flew by overhead

"About half the media room just ran outside to watch the Space Station fly overhead #ISSwave#MSL nice bright pass, wowed the crowd!" -Emily Lakdawalla ‏@elakdawalla 11:21 pm

Then Curiosity switched into EDL mode

"I'm inside the orbit of Deimos and completely on my own. Wish me luck! #MSL" -Curiosity Rover ‏@MarsCuriosity 11:12 pm

"Applause in #MSL control room: We are now in EDL mode." -New Scientist ‏@newscientist 11:50 pm

"Science is my new favorite Olympic sport." -Megan Sparkles‏ @megobits 11:52 pm

Some celebrities got a little goofy

"GUYS LOOK THERE IS WATER ON MARS.' -Wil Wheaton ‏@wilw 11:57 pm

But when the Mars orbiter, Odyssey, confirmed its position and that it would be able to relay Curiosity's landing live, things got really exciting

"That is, Odyssey's roll worked; she's now listening to #MSL Curiosity." -Emily Lakdawalla ‏@elakdawalla 12:07 am

"Earthlings. Cross stuff. Fingers, toes, whatever. Keep it there. Get the peanuts. We’re about to make history again w/MarsCuriosity" -Amber Naslund‏ @AmberCadabra 12:13 am

People were tuned in from coast to coast, including this gathering in Times Square

"In case anyone wondered if people would show up in Times Square at 1am on a sunday night to watch a robot land on Mars." -Blue Milker‏ @bluemilker 12:14 am

Entry, Decent and Landing...

Remember that 14-minute delay?

"#MSL is now on the surface. We're just narrating its progress, 14 light-minutes delayed, from here." -Scott Maxwell‏ @marsroverdriver 12:17 am

The "7 Minutes of Terror" begin

"Guided entry is begun. Here I go! #MSL" -Curiosity Rover ‏@MarsCuriosity 12:25 am

"7 minutes of terror starts NOW! #MSL#Curiosity" -Popular Science‏ @PopSci 12:26 am

"Parachute deployed. Backshell separation. Rockets are firing." It all happened so fast, and then...

"Standing by for Sky Crane! #MSL" -New Scientist ‏@newscientist 12:31 am

"'We're safe.' #MSL" -Emilee Richardson‏ @emileeann 12:31 am

"We're On Mars!"

Initial reactions

"Gold medal for NASA in the 563 billion meters" -Ben Dolman ‏@bdolman 12:34 am

"Hey 8-year-old me, I just watched NASA land a giant rover on Mars on my wireless pocket computer. You’re going to like it here in the future" -Matthew Panzarino ‏@mpanzarino 12:33 am

"Hey, I still have a job Monday. :-D #MSL" -Scott Maxwell‏ @marsroverdriver 12:48 am

And within seconds, images were coming in

"'Images coming down.' #MSL" -Emilee Richardson ‏@emileeann 12:35 am

"I see wheels on SOIL ! #MSL" -Emily Lakdawalla ‏@elakdawalla 12:34 am

"USA! USA! USA! USA!" -Jeremy Bingaman‏ @iowaradioguy 12:35 am

"'Keep watching the screen! There's more stuff, any minute now!' says someone on NASA TV #MSL" -New Scientist ‏@newscientist 12:35 am

There were some funny comments, too

"Sure, they can precisely land a rover on Mars. But I see a lot of awkwardly missed high fives in that control room." -Chris Sacca‏ @sacca 12:35 am

"Curiosity contemplates which Instagram filter to use." -Eva Giselle‏ @EvaZebra 12:36 am

The first hi-res images illicit some stunned reactions

"New hi-res images show the surface of Mars, and @MarsCuriosity's shadow. Amazing. #msl" -CNN Light Years‏ @CNNLightYears 12:38 am

"How do I buy a round for these NASA #curiosity engineers?" -Jill Van Wyke ‏@JillVanWyke 12:39 am

"Holy frak it actually worked. #MSL" -Emily Lakdawalla ‏@elakdawalla 12:39 am

And Curiosity got snarky again

"No photo or it didn't happen? Well lookee here, I'm casting a shadow on the ground in Mars' Gale crater #MSL" -Curiosity Rover ‏@MarsCuriosity 12:47 am

Other Great Moments...

There were some Olympics references


"Can NBC outsource their Olympic coverage to NASA? Better quality livestream, more knowledgeable announcers & actual live programming" -Whitney Muse‏ @arieswym 12:45 am

"Tonight's Mars landing = Proof you don't have to air something in prime time to capture the attention of the nation." -Matthew Keys ‏@ProducerMatthew 12:47 am

"Today I saw a man with no legs run in the Olympics and a robot from Earth land on Mars. Holy cow - science is awesome." -Janessa Goldbeck‏ @jgoldbeck 12:50 am

"NBC has a 6 hour delay for events 3000 miles away. NASA has a 15 minute delay for an event 150,000,000 miles away." -Matt Nunogawa ‏@amattn 12:58 am

Some people reflected

"I don’t know what we’ll find, but I do know that I’ll always remember this night. 'We dare mighty things.' #MSL" -Norah Carroll ‏@norahcarroll 12:48 am

"The excitement, joy & relief I saw in that room gave me tears. Tears of geeker joy. #MarsCuriosityLanding" -Heather ‏@BazingaCat 12:51 am

"Jokes aside, we're on Mars again. We are on Mars. This is another amazing milestone in humanity's quest to reach out to the stars. Bravo." -Thai Luong ‏@thailuong 1:03 am

And there were some pretty amazing quotes

"'It's time to see where our Curiosity will take us.' #MSL" -Emily Lakdawalla ‏@elakdawalla 12:38 am

"'Given a task to do. One that seems impossible. Given the desire to do it, humans can accomplish almost anything.' – Jim Lovell #MSL" -Geoff B‏ @zerogguy 12:51 am

"Holdren: 'Even the longest of odds are no match for America's unique blend of technical acumen and gutsy determination' #MSL" -Popular Science‏ @PopSci 1:28 am

"'There's a one-ton piece of American ingenuity and it's sitting on the surface of Mars right now,' @whitehouseostp's John Holdren #MSL" -NASA ‏@NASA 1:30 am

Even from the President

"'Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history.' —President Obama" -Barack Obama ‏@BarackObama 12:57 am

And we crashed the NASA website!

"#NASA websites are down because all of you, and all of us, are so excited about #MSL" -Popular Science‏ @PopSci 12:55 am

"NASA websites crashed. Lander didn't. Way it should be. #MSL#MarsCuriosity" -Katie Mack ‏@AstroKatie 1:00 am

There were pleas to save the space program

"Mr. President, this is why space is still cool and worth exploring. Boo yeah! #MarsCuriosity" -Romelle Slaughter II‏ @RHS76 12:52 am

"In case you missed it earlier - Curiosity cost $2.5B. Americans spend $7B on potato chips annually. To say we can't afford this is nonsense." -Nick Hlavacek ‏@NickInNC 12:54 am

"Hey Congress/@BarackObama: This was Times Sq tonight: - @NASA inspires us, brings us together. Fund it." -Rob Sheridan ‏@rob_sheridan 2:53 am

And Curiosity thanked us for our support

"To the entire team & fans back on Earth, thank you, thank you. Now the adventure begins. Let's dare mighty things together! #MSL" -Curiosity Rover‏ @MarsCuriosity 1:37 am

While I'm sure many of you agree with the irony of this tweet...

"Years from now when our kids ask where we were when @MarsCuriosity landed, we can proudly say ‘furiously updating Twitter.’" -Grant Goodale ‏@ggoodale 1:05 am

...this statement pretty much sums up my feelings on the whole night

"I love that we did this, and I love that people love that we did this." -Phil Plait‏ @BadAstronomer 1:28 am

The excitement even continued the next day...

"You know what? I still can't believe it worked." -Emily Lakdawalla‏ @elakdawalla 9:16 pm

And my friend Jeremy posted a tweet that was retweeted more than 800 times (including by @NASA)

"When was the last time hundreds of people gathered in Times Square and chanted the name of a gov't agency? Oh yeah, never. Go @NASA!" -Jeremy Bingaman ‏@iowaradioguy 8:31 am


In Summary...

We did it. We landed on Mars. And we captured the imaginations of millions. Mission accomplished.

Shameless plug: Continue the journey, and learn more about the challenges of space travel by visiting SCI's latest traveling exhibition, Facing Mars, where you can try walking with Mars' gravity, test your space surgery skills and see a real Martian meteorite! Learn about other space-themed events at

Category: NASA