Okay, I am rested after three nights of less than two hours of sleep a night. I tried to describe the atmosphere at MOC during the flyby, but I don’t think I did a good job. There was this quiet tenseness in the air. Everybody spoke, not in whispers, but with this forced control. Excitement hung in the air like smoke. The five MESSENGER Fellows were acting like they had each downed a pot of espresso but upon entering quickly bottled up their enthusiasm – just like everyone else. I have made the analogy that i felt like a five year old on Christmas morning and that is not far from the truth. I could see the same expression that I assumed was on my face echoed in the eye’s of everyone in MESSENGER MOC. What was interesting was the reticence at first, the fellows and the MESSENGER people to interact. I think everyone was nervous about how this historic interaction was going to work out. But after a while Jim McAdam,Mission Design Lead Engineer, took a couple of us and explained the animations he created and gently explained to us some of the science that the team was looking at.
At this point, I should explain that the MESSENGER fellows represent a wide swatch of the education world, from pre-K through college. I think some scientists were afraid to try to explain their science and work to people who did not understand it. And i think the teachers were afraid of the scientists speaking over their heads. Which is, in fact, why the fellows were here to begin with. Scientists and engineers are not teachers and teachers are not scientists and it takes a very talented person to be both. Probably the best example of the teacher/scientists that i can think of is Richard Feynman. If you don’t know who he is, and even if you do, go read “Surely, You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!” I wish I had met the man. His life story has been an inspiration to me.
The scientists and teachers needn’t have been afraid. Once the ice had been broken between the two groups, the conversations flowed like champagne at a cocktail party. Laughter abounded and evyone had a good time. It was a wonderful experience to be able to talk to the people at the forefront of scientific exploration. I hope it was as interesting to the MESSENGER team as it was for me. It was defintiely worth a few sleepless nights.