Event details what's next for NASA, space

Photos by Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
NASA Solar System Ambassador Adrienne Provenzano speaks at Jasper Middle School on Wednesday. Provenzano's presentation was in conjunction with Jasper-Dubois County Public Library's program, Summer Learning: A Universe of Stories.


JASPER — Fifty years ago, astronauts, engineers and scientists at NASA were days away from launching Apollo 11, the mission that would culminate in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon.

Wednesday, NASA Solar System Ambassador and amateur astrologer Adrienne Provenzano visited the Jasper Middle School auditorium for a program sponsored by the Jasper-Dubois County Public Library. The program focused on the upcoming anniversary — Apollo 11 launched on July 16 — and what’s next for NASA and space exploration.

Provenzano, who is also a Center for the Advancement of Science in Space ambassador for the International Space Station, broke her talk into three parts: what’s going on now at the space station; the history of the Apollo missions; and the upcoming missions to the moon, Mars and some of Jupiter’s moons that will kick off in the 2020s.

Right now, Provenzano said, there are three astronauts at the space station, with another three set to arrive in a few weeks. While living on the space station, the astronauts — who come from the U.S., Canada, Japan, Russia and the 11 countries in the European Space Agency (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) — perform various experiments geared toward learning how humans can live in microgravity.

“Some of the tests they do are on their bodies,” Provenzano said.

Others are about how to grow food and how different materials, such as water and rocket fuel, behave in microgravity. There’s also a ton of robotics going on at the space station, Provenzano said.

Toni Stewart of Jasper liked hearing about the activities at the space station. She remembers when the countries started sending pieces of the station into space in 1998.

“I remember being a little girl and thinking, ‘Oh, it’s going up,’” she said. “Now they’re trying to make a city out of it.”

NASA Solar System Ambassador Adrienne Provenzano sings and plays the piano during her presentation at Jasper Middle School on Wednesday. Provenzano spoke about the past, present and future of NASA.

Peggy Smith of Petersburg enjoyed the next part of the program: A historical look at the Apollo missions.

“That was in our lifetime,” she said of the moon landing.

She remembers watching with people around the world as Armstrong set foot on the moon and uttered his iconic quote, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

No matter where you were in the world, Smith said, you watched the moon landing if you could.

“It was history in the making,” she said. “You didn’t want to miss it. It was a time of hope.”

NASA flew 17 Apollo missions, Provenzano said. The first missions were meant just to get into space. Then, missions would put objects in the moon’s orbit. Once that could be done, Provenzano said, the work of putting a man on the moon began.

It took years, with the first manned Apollo mission — Apollo 1, which ended in the deaths of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee in a preflight test — happening in 1967.

Despite those deaths, Provenzano said, the country didn’t give up on the mission to get to the moon. Instead, NASA doubled down.

“There were a lot of failures, and there were cases of loss of life,” Provenzano said. “But the failures are necessary. That’s how we learn.”

Lessons from Apollo 1 led to Apollo 10 being able to send humans into orbit around the moon and to Apollo 11 landing on the moon, Provenzano said.

The lunar landing was the culmination of years of work of about 400,000 men and women with tons of different jobs, including mathematicians, seamstresses, scientists, engineers and, of course, astronauts, Provenzano said.

After Apollo 11, NASA sent up six more Apollo missions, with all but Apollo 13 landing on the moon.

Apollo 13 failed when an oxygen tank exploded and crippled the craft, forcing the crew to orbit the moon, instead of landing on it, before returning to Earth. Smith remembers that mission, too.

“We all sat on the edge of our seats,” she said.

Provenzano ended her presentation with a look to the future. In the 2020s, NASA plans to send the Artemis missions to the south pole of the moon to explore the areas where satellites show there is ice. There are also missions planned to send unmanned craft to Jupiter’s moons, and the Psyche mission will take an orbiting satellite to a unique metal asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.

In 2020, there will also be another rover sent to Mars, as the current rover, Curiosity, is nearing the end of its life.

All of the upcoming missions will be the beginning of larger explorations that will take years, Provenzano said.

“You have to be very patient, I think, to work in space,” Provenzano said. “And very resilient, because it can take a long time.”

Nine-year-old Sylvie McDivitt of Winslow is looking forward to watching the Artemis missions unfold and learning more about the water on the moon. She knows she could see civilians traveling to space in her lifetime, which she thinks is cool. But it’s not a trip she’s interested in taking.

“I like space,” she said. “I just don’t think I’m ever going to go there.”

Still, the knowledge that she may someday have the choice is enough to make her smile.

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