A few weeks back I took my oldest son to work with me. It was the first time I could because my work doesn't let you bring them unless they're 9 years old. He had been there before for the yearly open house my work puts on, so very little of what we did was a surprise to him. Nevertheless, there was something special about him getting his own name badge and walking through security like he was a real employee.
There were booths with activities for the kids, but they mostly seemed aimed at a younger crowd, which was odd since my son was among the youngest ones there, and the activities were a little too young for him. Even so, there were plenty of people who were interested, and the lines were long.
Instead of waiting in the long lines, we went to an auditorium where a fellow was giving a presentation on what it takes to build a spacecraft. It was quite funny. He asked for about two dozen volunteers (only one adult went, and my son was being shy for some bizarre reason), and then he divided them into different tasks.
Five of them he had walk in a tight circle, as if they were the planet "popcorn" spinning on its axis. He took eight of them and had them line up as if they were a launch vehicle (pointed sideways). The rest he identified as different components on the spacecraft, such as the spacecraft bus, the solar arrays, the computer, and most importantly the science instruments, such as the salt-ometer, the butter-ometer, and the caramel-ometer. What better sensors are there to explore a popcorn planet?
It was a kick, especially when the rocket "launched" and all the kids bunched up on their way to the "planet", which by then was composed of the five really bored kids who had been dutifully walking in circles for about twenty minutes like so many zombies.
Afterwards, we went over to a grassy area where we could roll up some paper to make a "rocket" that we could then launch by stomping on a 2-liter bottle. His rocket had three fins and was pretty good, though when it was his turn, he didn't stomp very hard, so it didn't go as far as we both thought it could have. He chased it down, and decided he didn't want to wait in line again to launch it again. (Since his science fair project last month was on model rockets, and he had launched real model rockets before, this wasn't exactly compelling stuff ...)
Instead, we headed down to the clean rooms where we went to the observation room. There we saw the components of the Mars Surface Laboratory. He was very impressed by that, and loved the fact that he was looking at stuff that was going to Mars, never to be seen by human eyes again (possibly). Pretty cool stuff. There was a man there who had his older teenage son (eyes rolling, looking bored) who was more than delighted to fill my younger and more eager son's ears with information about the spacecraft; the man, apparently, was part of the group developing the flight software. My son was in heaven.
We went to lunch (we had awesome pizza), walked around the laboratory (he was impressed by the machine shop), and I showed him my office (which he loved, though it's just a cubicle with a bunch of computer screens). I had a dentist appointment that afternoon (two cavities ...) so we called it an early day. On the way out, I realized we hadn't taken a picture of the two of us together, so as we were walking out, I took a self-portrait of us. Check out our nerdy engineer shirts. You can see he had a smile on his face, and that made it a very good day indeed.
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