An Exploratorium-NASA collaboration actually began before the museum opened its doors: Among the exhibits that greeted our first visitors in 1969 was a Mercury space capsule prototype. Our alliance with the nation’s space agency has continued for more than forty years.
Most recently, we partnered with NASA to cover two total solar eclipses: one in 2016, from a small atoll in Micronesia, and another whose path of totality spread across the United States in 2017. Our 2017 Total Solar Eclipse coverage and mobile app won four awards in two categories at the 22nd Annual Webby Awards. The live stream reached over 63 million people and the app was downloaded 228,000 times and used for 591,000 individual sessions on the day of the eclipse. The app, which included information about the eclipse and safe viewing techniques, allowed users to view the eclipse live from their phones and tablets. It also provided streaming access to the Exploratorium’s five live streams: original Spanish and English language coverage, telescope feeds from Wyoming and Oregon, and the Kronos Quartet’s real-time performance in collaboration with sonified data from the eclipse.
In the past, we also partnered with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which manages NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. We presented more than twenty live webcasts about the rover Curiosity, its extraordinary landing in August 2012, and its initial explorations of Mars. We also filmed behind the scenes at JPL, where the rover was built and tested. And JPL lent us a full-scale model of Curiosity for our visitors to check out.
The rich partnership between NASA and the Exploratorium is based on NASA’s appreciation of our ability to present science and their scientific missions in a way that is engaging and contributes to the public understanding of science. In exchange, NASA has given us virtually unrestricted access to their labs and scientists.
Other significant projects include the following:
In partnership with NASA’s Sun-Earth Connection Education Forum, we presented a series of live solar eclipse, transit of Venus, and transit of Mercury webcasts, beginning with the pioneering 1998 eclipse webcast from Aruba. We won the People’s Voice award for our 2004 eclipse program from Turkey, and the American Association of Museums (AAM) gold award in the Community category for our 2008 webcast from the remote Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwestern China.
We also teamed up with the Sun-Earth Connection to visit two ancient observatories: Chaco Canyon in New Mexico in 2004 and Chichén Itzá on the Yucatán peninsula in 2005. We explored ancient knowledge about the sun and modern solar science.
Our website Never Lost: Polynesian Navigation, which we produced with NASA and Hawaiian collaborators, is another culture-rich science site. It shows how the ancient Polynesians voyaged across vast expanses of open ocean without maps or compasses by relying on direct observation alone. It won the AAM silver MUSE award for Online Presence in 2011.
The strong relationship between NASA and the Exploratorium has resulted in lasting benefits for both organizations—the development of new public educational outreach activities by NASA, and the evolution of sophisticated, authentic media production by the Exploratorium.