MOFFETT FIELD, California — Twenty-year Jet Propulsion Laboratory veteran Charles White drove 350 miles from Pasadena to attend what amounted to a rave in Hangar 211 at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View on Friday night.
It was worth it, he said. At Yuri’s Night Bay Area, rocket scientists were bigger than rock stars.
“My generation has a stereotype of the next generation, that the only thing they care about is Nintendo,” White said. “But you know, not one of this generation believes that. What’s out there,” he said, gesturing to the crowd and choking up, “what’s out there is a testimony to the love and the care that young people have for science and for space exploration. I go out there with the NASA logo on my shirt, and people come up to me and say, ‘You work for NASA? That’s so cool!'” White paused to wipe his eyes. “And when I tell them that I make nuts and bolts for space missions, they say, ‘That’s awesome, man!’ They ask me questions about it. They are really interested.”
Yuri’s Night Bay Area was almost certainly the first time that NASA ever gave one of its facilities over to a crowd like this. Dancers, hackers, Burning Man fans and space enthusiasts filled the hangar and the concrete apron in front of it.
NASA research aircraft were temporarily transformed into projection screens for trippy screensaver art. Videos and still images of space travel loomed on projection screens everywhere, while DJs spun dance music. Hackers and do-it-yourselfers showed off Sharpie-wielding art robots, an LED-illuminated polycarbonate-frame bicycle, a Google Earth flyover of Burning Man 2006, Lego robots, LED-illuminated hula hoops, ham radios, clothing, paintings, space helmets, LED-illuminated costumes and more. Geodesic domes gave symbolic shelter to tech demos and to hangout rooms with old, worn sofas. The Space Cowboys‘ Unimog, a military vehicle transformed into a self-contained mobile party machine, blasted dance tracks and showed space imagery on its fold-out projection screens.
It was, as one attendee remarked, as if NASA had decided to host Burning Man.
What’s more, Yuri’s Night gave a glimpse of an emerging culture of space enthusiasts, of people who are as interested in science and technology as they are in partying and having fun. When the music was interrupted by PowerPoint presentations, the crowd, far from dispersing, gathered closer in to the stage and listened attentively.
Self-funded space traveler Anousheh Ansari described her week in the International Space Station, showed a short video of her $20 million, week-long space trip and was greeted with applause and whoops of support. NASA exobiologist Chris McKay described how to colonize Mars without causing irreversible biological damage to any life that’s already there, and was loudly cheered.
The party celebrated the anniversary of the first human spaceflight, by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961, and was put on by Yuri’s Night, a nonprofit organization that also hosted parties in dozens of other locations around the world on the same date. NASA participated because “we hope to get people enthusiastic about NASA’s plans to establish lunar outposts and send humans to Mars,” according to the official press release.
Mission accomplished. If Yuri’s Night is any indication, people are wildly enthusiastic about space travel. Not to mention LCD projectors and wearable LED art.
Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.