Earlier this year, the Westchester Children’s Museum was among 500 museums from across the country selected by NASA to celebrate the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s new space science observatory. The Museum used this distinction to forge new partnerships, highlight new and existing exhibitions, and feature programs that focus on space exploration. The culminating celebration event for the Museum’s James Webb Telescope Launch initiative was held on November 13.
Selection by NISE
The Museum was selected through a competitive proposal process administered by the NASA/National Informal STEM Education Network (NISE). NISE is a membership community of informal educators and scientists dedicated to supporting learning about science, technology, engineering, and math across the United States. The organization offers an entire resource page online dedicated to NASA that includes a digital download Earth and Space toolkit, content training videos, and other recorded workshops.
“We’re a NISE member and we learned about this opportunity through them,” said Leta Wong, Acting Director of the Westchester Children’s Museum. “At the beginning, there were a few occasions maybe a month apart where NISE inquired if any museum would be interested in being a celebration site for NASA. We were interested and sent them an outline of what we wanted to do for the celebration. It was a simple application process and what’s great about NASA is that size didn’t matter. We’re on the smaller end, but we were accepted.”
Wong was fortunate to meet Peter Sooy of NASA at the last in-person meeting for the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) in Toronto in 2019. “[Peter] represented NASA in the section of the conference that had presenters and exhibits about sustainability, climate, and environmental issues,” said Wong. “We had a very good discussion about sustainability, what NASA does regarding their education materials which are extensive and free, and topics they cover in the STEM education section of their website.”
The James Webb Telescope is the largest and most complex space science telescope ever built and will be the premier observatory of the next decade. The telescope is equipped with a 21.3 foot primary mirror that makes the Webb the farthest-seeing telescope ever built. This international mission, led by NASA in partnership with the European and Canadian space agencies will launch on the Ariane 5 rocket on December 18, 2021.
Celebrating the Launch
The Westchester Children’s Museum transformed its 5,000 square foot MakerSpace into an outer space STEAM experience with free activities for children of all ages. “NASA was very flexible and generous when it came to the requirements for the Museum’s participation,” said Wong. “Anything that we did had to be free and open to the public because it was helping NASA's goal to promote earth science, space exploration, and climate.”
To-scale models of planets in our solar system created by Artistic Coordinator of the Museum Lisa Archigian. Photo courtesy of Westchester Children’s Museum
On November 13, the NASA-related activities and exhibitions began in the Museum’s reception area and workshop room. Children were given a sticker from NASA and a badge that museum staff made withthe NASA logo and the text “Museum Think Tank Authorized Personnel.” Lisa Archigian, the Artistic Coordinator for the Museum created to-scale models of each planet in the solar system including a 5-foot beach ball for Saturn. Each planet was suspended from the ceiling in the MakerSpace. There was also a two-third scale model of the James Webb gold mirror with information about what the telescope sees on the light spectrum. Exhibitions included three videos with hands-on activities including a virtual trip through the Orion Nebula and atmospheric effects.
The Museum also had activities outdoors with celestial day-viewing on the boardwalk led by the group Westchester Amateur Astronomers. “NISE encourages partnerships to help expand their network,” said Wong. “This was the first partnership we had with them [Westchester Amateur Astronomers] and it kind of happened by accident.”
Westchester Amateur Astronomers on the boardwalk in front of the Museum. Photo courtesy of Westchester Children’s Museum
Wong met the Westchester Amateur Astronomers before COVID closed the Museum outside on the boardwalk. The group was viewing a planet and Wong struck up a conversation. “They said that they would be happy to partner with the museum for any events or classes. They were the first group I thought of to partner with for this celebration.” Westchester Amateur Astronomers helped Wong confirm which weekend would be best for the Museum to host their celebration so that it was also the best time for viewing planets.
288 people attended the museum’s James Webb Telescope Launch celebration with people participating in both the free NASA activities and exploring the museum’s exhibitions. “It was great to see that people who came for the free NASA activities stayed and paid the special discounted admission to explore the museum afterwards,” said Wong.
“We as a staff, and I especially, feel like we can never do enough with partnerships so we are always looking for new partnerships,” said Wong. “We wanted to do this just because it’s with NASA but also to expand our reach. We’re trying to get our neighbors involved with our programming and that’s really our vision–to be a community hub and do as many partnerships as we can with as many organizations as we can.”