Is this the launch pad for the future of space flight? A bare table with a couple of PC's, a joystick, a projector, and a bunch of wires, in front of a WWII era F4U Corsair? Actually it's just my Orbiter table at today's Space Expo 2007 at the New England Air Museum, but there a couple of dozen young people got to watch a simulated shuttle launch, experience docking with the ISS and landing the space shuttle, and learn a bit about forces and motion in the process. I also introduced Orbiter to a few educators and fellow space enthusiasts (most of whom declined a test flight).
There were some 400 attendees all together, with around sixteen exhibits, plus retired NASA astronaut Winston Scott, who was probably the biggest draw. I spoke briefly with him and invited him to check out Orbiter (I told him I had even installed an add-on F-14 in his honor, since he flew Tomcats in the Navy), and while he expressed interest, he just didn't have the time. He's an excellent speaker and a very modest and down-to-Earth guy. I would have liked to talk with him more, but there were a lot of people, so I'll just have to learn more from his book, Reflections from Earth Orbit, which I bought today.
Orbiter "test flights" were pretty popular with kids and their parents, most of whom had the usual reaction ("it's free?"). I had a single page information sheet to give to visitors to help them find Orbiter on line and get started with it. I also had two printed copies of Go Play In Space to show (one of which disappeared from the table). A few observations:
The joystick is a draw, and is pretty essential for landing the shuttle (for which I used a playback until short final when the visitor would take the stick). It's not really that great for docking, but it's more fun than the key pad. I made up large labeled diagrams for RCS control with the stick (I programmed buttons for translation and hover engine controls).
Working with one kid at a time like a coach or flight instructor worked quite well with about 10-20 minutes spent with each one. I also had the notebook running with the projector, usually an Orbiter flight recorder playback of the STS-115 shuttle launch and climb to orbit.
I need to carry a small model of the shuttle or even an aircraft to use when explaining rotation vs. translation. It was pretty silly doing this with a water bottle or piece of paper.
All in all, an interesting and enjoyable space event for the general public.