Friday, May 2, 2008

YOUR LEGACY IN SPACE

Now's the time to send your name on a trip to the moon ... or find the bright star in the sky known as the international space station ... or catch a meteor shower ... or tune in to the past and the future of space exploration on your computer.

NASA's 50th Anniversary

NASA's 50th anniversary

All of these opportunities are available over the next few days, and any one would serve as a fitting celebration of Space Day.

We've already celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Space Age, in Russia and America, and last month it was time for a global space party on Yuri's Night. So why schedule yet another space-themed celebration on Friday? Well, this one is for the kids.

Space Day was established in 1997 by a consortium of businesses and other institutions, led by Lockheed Martin, as an opportunity to educate the next generation about space exploration. It takes place on the first Friday of May, serving as a nod to President Kennedy's May 1961 speech to Congress in which he set America on a course for the moon.

This year, more than 100 events have been registered as Space Day activities - including a daylong celebration at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington that's expected to draw 10,000 participants. The Space Day Web site also offers online games and 101 suggested activities to get kids in a spacey mood.

But you don't have to confine yourself to the official program. It turns out that the next week offers several ways to create your own personal Space Day:

  • Put your name in space: It's easy to deliver your name to the moon aboard NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is scheduled for launch later this year. Just type the name in on this Web page and hit the button. It will be added to a digital database that will be stored aboard the spacecraft on a microchip. You can even print out a certificate recognizing your participation in the project. Deadline for submitting names is June 27. If you want your name and a digitized photo on the moon's surface, you can add them to the Google Lunar X Prizes program's Lunar Legacy database for $10. The Space Day team also offers an annual Student Signatures in Space program for elementary schools and middle schools.

  • See the space station: Assuming that the skies are clear, most residents of North America and Europe will have multiple opportunities to watch the international space station overhead this month. NASA offers a variety of satellite-tracking applications as well as a simple-to-use database of sighting opportunities. and SpaceWeather.com has just released a new online tool that tells you when you can see the space station, the Genesis inflatable modules and other orbiting craft, based on your ZIP code.

  • Watch space events over the Web: NASA Television is broadcasting Saturday's rollout of the space shuttle Discovery, as well as live and repeat coverage of the 2008 Astronaut Hall of Fame induction ceremony. This year, shuttle astronauts John Blaha, Bob Cabana, Bryan O'Connor and Loren Shriver are the honorees. The event begins at 3 p.m. ET Saturday. To stay on top of NASA TV's schedule for weeks to come, check this program listing.

  • See a meteor shower: The annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower is due to peak during the wee hours of Tuesday morning. This celestial show occurs when Earth passes through the trail of cosmic debris left behind by Halley's Comet. The Eta Aquarids aren't usually on the A-list, but the viewing should be good this year because the moon will be absent from the sky, and the dust trail is expected to be denser than usual. Prime viewing will be from the Southern Hemisphere, but northern observers could see 10 or more Eta Aquarid meteors per hour. Check out Meteor Showers Online for the details - and follow my top 10 tips for meteor-watching.

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