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AL At The Sally Ride Science Festival

Former astronaut, Sally Ride recognized a need and met the challenge. In 2001, "Sally Ride Science" was founded, and the first woman in space also became the first woman to help promote interest in science careers amongst young women. The company's mission is "to empower girls to explore the world of science--from astrobiology to zoology and from environmental engineering to rocket science." And, that mission has been a success through dozens of programs, publications, and events aimed at girls, their parents, teachers and future employers.

Despite the social trend that women make up only 25% of the science, engineering, and technology workforce, Sally Ride Science endeavors to spark girl's natural curiosity in science and technology and support their interests. One of the many ways in which this is accomplished is by holding programs all over the United States at local universities. Known as "Sally Ride Science Festivals", hundreds of girls, their families and educators gather for a fantastic day of socializing and science. During these "Festivals", the young ladies have a chance to listen to inspiring talks and join in workshops given by science related women in all careers, but one of the most exciting of all is the "Street Fair" which features hands-on activities.

Yet Sally Ride Science isn't alone...

An organization of over 240 amateur astronomical societies from across the United States has similar goals - The Astronomical League. As the largest astronomical organization in the world, their goal is simple: To promote the science of astronomy. Their members encourage an interest in astronomy throughout America. Far too many young women have seen pictures of planets of deep space objects, yet never realize they can see this in a telescope. The Astronomical League endeavors to educate everyone about the availability of local astronomical societies, and encourages interest in schools and at a personal level to use a telescope and enjoy the beauty of the heavens.

Now we have a catalyst of two organizations coming together...

On September 24, 2005, the "Sally Ride Science Festival" came to Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan North Campus. For the first year the featured speaker wouldn't be talking about space, but about the world below the sea. World-famous oceanographer Sylvia Earle has headed up more than 50 expeditions in the world's oceans led the first team of women aquanauts known as the Tektite II Project. Like Sally Ride becoming the first American woman in space, Earle went to the depths as she performed an unequalled walk on the ocean floor. But the science of space was firmly represented as two women members of the Astronomical League were in attendance.

Terry Mann, the Vice-President of the Astronomical League and Tammy Plotner, the President of the RAS at Warren Rupp Observatory had been invited to attend as exhibitors at the "Sally Ride Festival". As representatives of the Astronomical League, as well as their respective astronomy clubs, both are highly involved in astronomy outreach programs and the chance to reach so many young minds was a dream come true. Planning together, they set up their exhibit along with many other notables such as, California's Monterey Bay Aquarium, Pfizer, Gap Inc., NASA, the UM student designed solar car, and the Michigan Mars Rover.

Two tables were laden with as much information as Terry and Tammy could present. One held a wealth of periodicals such as issues of "Astronomy", "Night Sky" and the "Reflector" magazine. The other held astrophotos, a hands-on collection of meteorites, two laptop computers - one which played self-recorded meteor sounds, and the other a solar program. Also on hand was a video monitor attached to a telescope via an eyepiece camera streaming live views. The aim was to give participants a "live view" of the solar surface, but although the Sun didn't shine that day, the two representatives did.

Throughout the "Fair" the theme was "Reach for the Stars", and that's precisely what the duo did. Out of more than 900 registered visitors, 780 of them took the time to visit with the Astronomical League exhibit. Eager hands seized on the offered periodicals and curious ones explored "pieces of space". For many of them, this was the first opportunity for them to touch a real meteorite and to see a wide variety of rare examples not normally placed in a hands-on display. There was no lack of things to pique interest as they watched the monitor focused on distant building and worked with a mock-up telescope. Learning is half the fun, and it didn't take long before the budding astronomers understood why we put telescopes into space.

The hours passed quickly as both Mann and Plotner explained everything from the intricacies of aurora to the phases of the Moon. Each visitor was given special attention and all questions were answered. For many, it was their first experience at seeing astronomy publications, photos of aurora and deep space, and to see a telescope in action. No one left the exhibit empty handed or empty headed! But, by the end of the day, the tables were empty as the handout materials became a total success. Even as exhibitors were packing to leave, guests were still visiting the display and no one was turned away.

For the Astronomical League the visit to the Sally Ride Science Festival was a complete success. May we all "Keep reaching for the stars!"

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