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UFO Festival mixes in some science education

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“Alien autopsies” might look as if they are just about playing with food, but as Dave Doolin, New Mexico Museum of Space History education director, says, there’s a lot of scientific inquiry involved, as well. Several events during the UFO Festival are intended to provide educational content. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

A lot of what will be shared at this year’s UFO Festival involves imagination, speculation and theories, but opportunities also exist to learn a bit more about aviation, space history, aerospace and astronomy.

Five different groups will hold events today through Sunday designed to encourage people, especially school-age youth, to explore the ways in which science disciplines can intersect with fantasies and curiosity about extraterrestrials and alien spacecraft.

Principles of flight and more

Youth interested in learning more about drones and aviation principles can attend a “Kids and UFOs” class, to be offered as part of Galacticon and SciFi Film Festival at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center, 912 N. Main St., on Friday at noon.

The one-hour event will accept up to about 15 youth for a registration fee of about $5, says Jenna Secrist, one of the partners of AirPlay Media and Adventure Services LLC, which periodically offers drone orientation classes to the public. Mike Lanfor, her husband and business partner, will help lead the class. Secrist has a remote pilot license, while Lanfor is a Federal Aviation Administration-certified ground school instructor, a private pilot and a drone pilot.

Secrist said students can bring their own drones or use one provided by AirPlay to learn about aerodynamics, the four principles of flight, the features and operations of drones, and safety rules and regulations.

She added that drones also have a connection to the area’s growing film and media arts industry.

“Drones are heavily used in cinematography,” she said. “So we are trying to feed the industry going forward as far as the workforce goes by getting kids interested in drones.”

To the moon

On July 16, the United States will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, which put the first people on the moon. (One UFO Festival speaker disputes this idea — see this year’s schedule in the UFO edition of the Vision Magazine.)

The Robert H. Goddard Planetarium at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, 1011 N. Richardson Ave., will hold several showings of the “Moon 2019” film, which will be shown on the large planetarium dome.

The 20-minute film will be shown Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. Regular museum admission fees of $3 to $5 will apply, although children under 3 are free.

“It is a historical narrative, so it covers the history of the moon program, starting at World War II with Wernher von Braun, going through the launch and then the activity on the moon surface and the return back to Earth,” said Jeremy Howe, planetarium director.

Another purpose to showing the film, said Caroline Brooks, museum executive director, is “to inspire the next generation of rocket scientists.”

The Apollo spaceflight will get some attention at a couple of other educational events, as well.

Learning on the move

The Wonders on Wheel mobile museum of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs will have a lot of different information about space exploration and history, including an Apollo 11 display.

The mobile program brings the exhibits of a different state-run museum to remote areas each year. This year, the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo is the subject of its displays and activities.

“It is very focused on New Mexico and our role in space exploration,” said Jamie Brytowski, who said educators will be on hand to discuss the exhibits.

The WoW van, open to all ages but especially geared to kindergarten through eighth-grade students, is scheduled to be at 400 N. Main St. from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

In addition to the Apollo 11 information, there will be exhibits about the Spaceport, the past and future of space exploration and a Space Trail Map that shows where in New Mexico space-related events have occurred, including UFO-related events and sites.

Activities include a table about shapes visible on the moon and a chance to work on petroglyphs.

New Mexico petroglyphs trace “sky-watching” back thousands of years, Brytowski said.

“There are lots of petroglyphs depicting celestial events, and specifically there are three locations of a petroglyph depicting a specific event that happened in 1066,” she said. “It was a supernova in the Crab Nebula area of the sky.”

Rockets and Europa species

The New Mexico Museum of Space History has a couple of other things to teach interested UFO Festival attendees.

Some Apollo-era space artifacts are scheduled to be displayed at the Alegria Candy Store on the corner of North Main Street and East Second Street Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Curator Sue Taylor will help explain the displays, to include a model of the Saturn V lunar rocket and a depiction of the control panel from the Apollo 11 command module.

About a block north, some aquatic species from the planet Europa will be dissected during the museum’s “Alien Autopsy” hands-on learning experience for kids at Tascosa Office Supplies, 321 N. Main St.

The 30-minute shows will be offered at the start of each hour on Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Kids will have a chance to dissect or observe the dissection of the Tortilla Volante (or flying flapjack), the spiny pickleworm and a yet-to-be-announced species, said Dave Dooling, education director for the museum.

“The idea is to teach a little bit of the basics of biology,” he said. “When we find life elsewhere in the universe, it is going to be like us and different from us. A lot of the mechanisms, the basic principles, will be the same, but they are going to be assembled in different ways, which we see naturally on planet Earth anyway.”

While kids will be “cutting” into Jell-O, gummy worms and tortillas, Dooling explained that what is more important is that they will be asking and answering questions about the anatomical structures of their creatures and what the functions and purposes of their parts might be.

“When the kids work on it, it is teaching them how to ask questions,” Dooling said. “That is the important thing in science. The answer becomes insignificant if you don’t ask the questions the right way, so it is the inquiry process.”

Peering into the sky

Weather permitting, astronomy fans will have a chance to gaze at the stars Friday night, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., on the lawn of the Roswell Museum and Art Center, 1011 N. Richardson Ave.

Members of the Roswell Astronomy Club will have some telescopes available for people to view planets and stars. Club members also will be there to answer questions.

Organizers of the affiliated youth club also plan to have “Alka-Seltzer” bottle rockets at the Chaves County Courthouse lawn, 400 N. Virginia Ave., on Saturday afternoon, 1 to 4 p.m. Youth can participate for free.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.