Turns out that it was declared a few years back that April 12 of every year is Yuri's Night, a celebration commemorating Yuri Gagarin's historic space flight (April 12, 1961), as well as the first space shuttle launch (April 12, 1981). There are apparently parties around the world each year at around this time, celebrating space and spaceflight.
NASA Ames had such a party last night, and I ended up with a couple of free tickets. Twig and I wandered over and hung out there for a while.
It was an odd party--a mix of space geeks, Burners, and, I assume, ravers (not that those categories don't overlap). It took place in Hangar 211 at Moffett Field (sadly not the zeppelin hangar), a big covered open space with very echoey acoustics; you had to show your driver's license to even get in Moffett's front gate, and there were (friendly) security guards everywhere. There was lots of very loud kind of trancey music (I don't know nearly enough about electronic music to be able to accurately categorize what was being played); there were several geodesic domes containing science experiments and computers and videos of sciencey topics; there were two big white plastic inflatable things that looked vaguely gourdlike; there were several soft pillowy resting areas that looked like the kind of place you would hang out if you were on ecstasy. But as the "message from NASA" on the website noted:
[...] This is not an underground party.
NASA Ames Research Center is a federal facility: controlled drugs and weapons are prohibited. The consequences of getting caught with a prohibited item will be much nastier than what you would experience in your own communities. [...]
The main reason that I'd been interested in going is that Anousheh Ansari was speaking there. I have a huge amount of respect for her: she emigrated to the US from Iran when she was a teenager and spoke no English; she co-founded a telecom company in 1993, and they sold the company in 2000 for $550 million. Ansari and her brother-in-law proceeded to donate millions of dollars to the X Prize, which was renamed in their honor. And then Ansari went on to become the first female space tourist, and the first person of Iranian descent to travel into space.
Unfortunately, she's not an especially compelling public speaker, and it was not a great venue for public speaking. Echoey acoustics, some minor technical problems, a very large space, and an audience that spent most of her talk talking with each other. Still, there was a nice video of her space trip, with some great moments. And I still get misty-eyed watching spaceship launches, even though I'm no longer as eager as I once was to actually go to space personally.
The science stations mostly weren't well-labeled, and the promised demos appeared to be mostly videos. There was one live demo in which we couldn't hear the presenter even when we were standing three feet away from him; his voice and the small speakers they'd set up were drowned out by the music. We looked at a bacterial-mats project for a little while, and a project to squeeze electricity out of a stone (actually for detecting such squeezes, which may help predict earthquakes), and Twig played with a headband that, if I understood right, projected an infrared beam into your brain to detect bloodflow in the frontal (?) lobes and thereby let you control a computer display using only your brain. Sort of.
We also watched the Burners biking around with pretty colored lights, and the big balloon with an 80-or-so-foot-long string covered with bright little lights, and we stood in line to see Saturn (looking tiny and cartoonish) in a huge portable telescope. I took a bunch of photos of various things and people (there were a lot of people in fun outfits), but haven't had time to sort and post those yet.
When we left, after a couple of hours, the line for tickets was even longer than it had been when we arrived. The party was scheduled to last 'til 6:30 this morning; looked like people were prepared to enjoy it, though many of them were dressed a little too scantily for the temperatures. But presumably if they danced, that kept 'em warm--almost nobody was dancing during the time we were there.
Anyway, the party overall was kind of neat, and I'm glad we went, but I'm also glad we didn't pay $30 a ticket.
Afterward, we went home and watched The Glass Menagerie, which I've had out from Netflix for two or three months now. But I won't review that in this entry.