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Environment & Science

'This is the kind of thing kids remember': Lehigh Valley Space Fest brings planets, stars down to Earth to inspire youth

Lehigh Valley Space Fest
Molly Bilinski
The Lehigh Valley's first Space Fest was held Saturday in Easton.

EASTON, Pa. — Four-year-old Harrison Weber was dressed to impress Saturday, wearing a child’s version of a spacesuit, complete with NASA patches.

“The boys are obsessed with everything space,” Harrison’s mother, Holly, said. “We’re going to learn a lot today.”

  • Lehigh Valley Space Fest kicked off Saturday in Easton
  • Activities include speakers, but also hands-on activities and a mobile planetarium
  • The free event is also on Sunday

Brought to the region by two NASA Solar System Ambassadors, Todd Sullivan and Marty McGuire, the first Lehigh Valley Space Fest started Saturday and runs through the weekend at Paxinosa Elementary School in the city’s West Ward.

In addition to panels and speakers covering everything from “Life Aboard the International Space Station” to “How a Satellite is like the Human Body,” activities scheduled include a moon bounce and a mobile planetarium.

Open to all ages, Lehigh Valley Space Fest is intended to "bring space down to Earth” in order to inspire the Valley’s youth, according to Sullivan and McGuire.

Harrison, his brother Benedict, 5, and his mother traveled from Columbia, Warren County, New Jersey, for the event. But many locals participated, too.

Easton resident Nichole Boseman brought two of her children, who were coloring in the gymnasium.

“I saw they had exhibits about 3D printing and STEM,” Boseman said. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. “I want to get them involved.”

'Where your kids can come and learn something'

City Mayor Sal J. Panto Jr. kicked off the fest with a speech before reading a space-themed book to a handful of children at a picnic table under a tree.

“So many of the inventions that were used to make space exploration possible and successful are what we use,” Panto said, citing cordless headphones and Teflon. “It’s so great to see our space program get up to speed.”

“We have a lot of festivals in Easton, but this is where your kids can come and learn something. I think that’s really important.”

We have a lot of festivals in Easton, but this is where your kids can come and learn something. I think that’s really important.
Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr.

Panto was partially correct. NASA developed wireless headsets so astronauts could communicate without worrying about tangled wires. The agency also is credited with inventing scratch-resistant lenses, improved smoke detector technology and invisible braces, according to a USA Today report.

However, while Teflon is often associated with the Apollo program, it was invented by a DuPont scientist in 1941, according to a Chicago Tribune article debunking NASA invention myths.

The agency did use it as an outer coating for spacesuits because of its low friction properties, but it wasn’t technically invented by or for astronauts.

'Ask lots of questions ... We have lots of answers'

Along with Sullivan and McGuire, eight NASA Solar System Ambassadors volunteered at the event, traveling from as far as Newark, New Jersey, to the east and Lancaster to the west to participate.

The ambassadors’ program is part of a public engagement effort through NASA “that works with motivated volunteers across the nation to communicate the science and excitement of NASA's space exploration missions and discoveries with the people in their communities,” according to the agency’s website.

Sullivan has been with the program since 2007. McGuire, also known as the Backyard Astronomy Guy, was accepted into the program in late 2016.

“We really hope you see everything, and get excited — ask lots of questions,” McGuire said. “We have lots of answers for you all. Learn about space and upcoming missions with astronauts.”

Bob Lafleur, an ambassador and member of the Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Society, helped children and adults view the sun through a telescope fitted with a special filter for safety.

“Everybody turns into a kid when they look through the telescope,” Lafleur said. “But I love when the kids look. This is the kind of thing kids remember.”