The Big Day
Among the events it's already held have been a Sept. 24th gala coordinated by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a lecture series featuring the likes of Stephen Hawking and a string of "Future Forums" in different cities across the U.S. to discuss the role and future of space exploration. But while many of those haven't been open to the general public, there's a lot of ways in which armchair astronomers can join in on the NASA anniversary party.
In you're in Washington, D.C., on the big day (Oct. 1, that is), for example, you can watch as NASA's Stardust sample return capsule goes on display at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. Stardust traveled three billion miles over seven years to capture particles from the comet Wild 2, which at one point was no more than 150 miles from the craft.
"Very few people get to build something, launch it into space, see it be successful and then get it back in their hands," said Karen McNamara, the Johnson Space Center recovery lead for the Stardust mission. "To be able to share this with the public is phenomenal."
Another way in which NASA will observe its anniversary next month is with the release of a new book, "NASA/ART: 50 Years of Exploration." The title will feature a half-century of NASA-commissioned artworks -- by artists including Norman Rockwell, James Wyeth, Patti LaBelle and Annie Leibovitz -- to illustrate the agency's various missions. The book is intended as a companion to a traveling art exhibit by the Smithsonian that features 73 works from NASA and the National Air and Space Museum.
"Through the NASA Art Program, artists have been given an inside glimpse into the missions and programs which make up the space agency," said Bert Ulrich, the art program's curator. "Through their imaginations, artists have shared an entirely new interpretation of the NASA story with the public."
Above left: NASA's Stardust sample return capsule. (Image credit: NASA, http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/stardust/multimedia/capsule-1.html)