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Astronomy Days 2008: The Challenges of Space Exploration

RALEIGH – Astronomy Days will be held on Saturday, January 26, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m and Sunday, January 27, Noon to 5 p.m. at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. From learning about astrophotography to building your own robot, the free, two-day event offers dozens of exhibits, along with entertaining and educational hands-on activities and live presentations.

This year's special guest will be astronaut, Roger K. Crouch, Ph.D, Space Shuttle payload specialist and veteran of two NASA Space Shuttle missions. Dr. Crouch will give presentations on Saturday and Sunday entitled, "Meeting the Challenges of Space Exploration: A Shuttle Astronaut's Perspective" (1 and 2:30 p.m. Saturday / 1 p.m. Sunday) followed by an hour-long meet and greet after each presentation.

New this year, visitors can immerse themselves inside NASA's Vision for Space Exploration Flight Simulator, where they can try their hand at docking the Space Shuttle Orbiter with the International Space Station. NASA's Interactive Constellation Experience allows visitors to design a next-generation space craft using state-of-the-art technology on a giant flat screen monitor. Amateur stargazers can also use a remote control to explore the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy via a 4.6-meter radio telescope. There's even a cool photo opportunity courtesy of Cary Space Camp where you can get your picture taken on the surface of the Moon!

Returning to Astronomy Days this year is the NASA Magic Planet Projection Sphere, a digital video globe that allows visitors to view and interact with dynamic digital media of the Earth and other planets on a spherical screen; and the Next Generation Spacecraft Experience courtesy of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, which provides an opportunity for visitors to touch, feel and sit inside a spaceship. Visitors will also be amazed by LEGO Robotics Creations from First LEGO League clubs across our region.

For those ages 8 and older, there will be several presentations in Windows on the World, a small auditorium on the Museum's third floor, including Live Animals of the Constellations and How Space Weather Forecasting Impacts Your Daily Life, sponsored by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

Past favorites exhibitors also include the Tripoli Rocket Association, who will be on hand once again to show off their amazing high-powered model rockets — some over 20 feet tall!

Astronomy Days 2008 is sponsored by the Museum, the NASA Langley Research Center, the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratories, and the Raleigh Astronomy Club. A program guide listing events and activity times will be available at the door. Food and beverages will be sold on site. For more information, please call 919-733-7450, ext. 503 or visit the Museum's Web site at naturalsciences.org. Astronomy Days is co-sponsored by the non-profit Raleigh Astronomy Club. For more information about club activities, visit their Web site at http://rtpnet.org/rac, or call 919-460-7900.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, in downtown Raleigh, documents and interprets the natural history of the state of North Carolina through exhibits, research, collections, publications, and educational programming. Hours: Mon.-Sat., 9 am to 5 pm, and Sun., noon to 5 pm. Admission is free. Visit the Museum on the Web at naturalsciences.org. The Museum is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, William G. Ross Jr., Secretary.