Archive for March, 2009

Tales from a Space Blogger

by Beth Higgins, Public Relations/Development Coordinator, Fort Collins Museum

In 2006, my mom and dad retired and did the quintessential mom-and-dad-are-retired thing, and bought a house along the Florida coast – the “Space Coast” to be exact – on Merritt Island, just three miles from the Kennedy Space Center. Although my mom died in late 2006, dad kept the house, and our family has managed to make the trip from Colorado to Florida a few times since then.

Our last trip to Merritt Island earlier this month was above and beyond the normal fantastic. This time, we got to watch the space shuttle Discovery launch from the Kennedy Space Center on March 15. From the back of a boat. At twilight. “Wow” doesn’t even start to describe it.

Originally we weren’t even going to be there for the launch – it was scheduled for Wednesday, March 11th and we weren’t arriving until Friday. But, there was a problem with a fuel cell requiring, I’m sure, more than one trip to Ace Hardware. And then they had to launch by the 12th in order to meet up with the International Space Station before the Russians were scheduled for their rendezvous. Apparently, to our great surprise, the Russians were caught in traffic and running late, so the launch was re-scheduled for the 15th.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect. We made our way on Dad’s boat through the canals just before dusk. The launch was scheduled for 7:45, a twilight launch, supposedly the best kind. We joined a line of boat traffic at the Barge Canal…pontoons, sailboats, fishing boats, small motor boats, big boats. We all churned or sailed our way to the channel to get a good spot. We successfully anchored (yeah, Dad!) and turned on the radio. We had about 15 minutes to wait. On the boat was my dad Paul, his wife Karen, me, my husband Gary, my 8 year old son Brennan, my brother Paul, my sister Megan, and her friends Ashley and Chris.  Chris, Megan and Ashley are teachers – Megan and Chris teach science. Chris brought his video camera (thanks, Chris! You can see his video below). We all sat in the back of the boat, taking picture after picture of a gorgeous sunset, when we heard we had one minute to launch.

You couldn’t see the shore from the boat, so we just peered north and waited. Suddenly, it seemed the sun had come up in the west.  A huge fireball sat on the horizon, just hanging there for a few seconds. And then it lifted. We screamed, as did everyone else on all the boats around us. We hooted and hollered, and fell into stunned silence as the bright, orange light climbed higher. Then hooted and hollered again. Boats sounded their horns in that low, wailing complaining sound. Brennan watched through binoculars, while we all snapped picture after picture. About a minute after the launch, just as it seemed the shuttle would fly right over us, we heard the thunder. The sound shook the boat and vibrated in our chests. The smoke from the shuttle turned shades of orange, and pink, and purple far above our heads as it passed through the path of the setting sun. We watched the booster rockets fall away, and then, the fire disappeared. Instead, there was a long trail of smoke and what looked much like a star heading north. We were speechless. We felt that great sense of participation. We knew that we were incredibly lucky to have been a part of the launch, and that none of us would ever forget it.

After a bit of effort we pulled anchor and merged into the line of boats heading back to homes along the canals. We couldn’t stop talking about the launch. We laughed, and replayed it over and over again: Did you see when…? Did you hear…? I couldn’t believe…!

I know we’ll go back to the Kennedy Space Center again, especially now that we’ve been a part of this. And I also know that while I may never have the desire to hurl myself skyward and rocket through space, I was struck by the beauty and magnificence of the shuttle launch. I felt like part of a larger community, knowing that thousands were watching from streets and backyards all over Florida, and I was part of a smaller boat-bound community, yelling over the waves. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and I hope you, too, have an opportunity to experience it someday. Let me know, though, so I can reserve your spot on the boat.

Today, space shuttle Atlantis is rolling out to the launch pad for its upcoming mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. You can track its progress here. Also, don’t forget to check out the Virtual Space Community events at our very own Discovery Science Center! The next one is scheduled for this Saturday, April 4, from 12-1pm. In partnership with Space Center Houston, the program is broadcast live from Texas to DSC. During the broadcast, you can interact with the presenters and ask questions about space and the space program.


National Endowment for the Arts spotlight

The NEA published a nice article about the Fort Collins Museum Foundation on their website, highlighting the Museum’s Native American Music Festival. Check it out at:

Winter stories

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Last Friday, I got to spend the day at the 35th Annual Denver March Powwow, and it counted as work! Out of all the new and interesting experiences I had (favorites include watching a Jingle Dress Dance competition and eating my first “Indian Taco” – yum!), the best part of my day was the three hours I sat in a cold little room, on a hard folding chair, and listened to the Powwow’s Storyteller Competition.

Winter is a traditional storytelling time for many cultures. The Fort Collins Museum has been very fortunate to work with Northern Ute elder and spiritual leader Clifford Duncan, who has consulted with us on several projects, including the Soapstone Prairie Oral History Project. In a recent interview, Mr. Duncan talked about winter storytelling:

“If you really look at, or listen, to a mythology or folklore story, they’re talking about people. They’re talking about how to conduct yourself. But Native Americans would say the animals, the coyote said this to the badger, the badger said this to that. The light, the fire was taken from this place, and here’s how this animal created this animal. It’s really a teaching mechanism that takes place in the winter, so that you can go on again in springtime and you live that summer again, and that’s what you’re doing.”

Stories are an important part of history. Author Chris Abani said, “Stories make the world in which we live… everything in the world is explained through story,” and my tenth grade history teacher went as far as to claim that history is just the stories we’ve remembered to write down.  

The sandhill crane migration – a phenomenon to experience

by Annette Geiselman, Executive Director, Discovery Science Center

Spring is the perfect time to get away and commune with nature. For the second spring break in a row, I traveled to Kearney, Nebraska and once again was stunned by the sandhill crane migration. There aren’t words to describe the connection to nature, and the connection to the ancient past, that this experience provides. For me, the chortling sound of the cranes is the characteristic that transports me back in time. It is truly indescribable. And the sheer incredible number of cranes that you hear and see is beyond quantification. The cranes migrate right off of I-80, and the Rowe Audubon Sanctuary will help even the most novice bird watcher have an extraordinary experience. At the sanctuary I learned that cranes have been in existence for 40 million years and are among the oldest living birds on the planet. The red color of the top of the head of the crane is not red feathers, but rather skin. The color changes from red to grayish depending on how excited or agitated the crane is. Even their descriptions are surprising — female adults are mares, male adults are roans, and baby cranes are colts. Millions of the birds, making up 80 percent of the world’s sandhill crane population, migrate through Nebraska each year. I met many people from around the United States who make this an annual pilgrimage, and I can see why. Here are a couple of links if you would like to learn more.

Rowe Audubon Sanctuary’s crane cam (through April 8th)

Nebraska Flyway (a really excellent website)

Why does this place matter?

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator, Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has a really interesting project going on called “This Place Matters.” It’s a photo-sharing campaign in which people use Flickr to post photos of themselves in places that are important to them. It’s interesting not just because of the diversity of places that people have chosen as important, but because it opens up some interesting questions. 

Why are places important to us? Author Barry Lopez wrote “Human beings, generally, seem to long for a specific place, a certain geography that gives them a sense of well-being.” Our places are part of our personal identity and our community identity. Here in Fort Collins we treasure both our historic places and our natural places and we work fiercely to protect them. At the same time, in our day-to-day routines we often stop consciously noticing our surroundings — we’re like fish that can’t see water. Which is why something like “This Place Matters” is a great idea.

Our special places are part of what tell our personal story and our community story. When we lose a special place, we definitely feel a loss. What places matter to you? Why do they matter? What do your special places say about you?

This Place Matters - Soapstone Prairie Natural Area

This Place Matters - Soapstone Prairie Natural Area

Let’s participate in this project and show off some of the great places in Fort Collins and northern Colorado. If you do decide to contribute to “This Place Matters,” take an extra minute and upload your photos to our Flickr group pool also so we can enjoy your places too!


“Bottled Up!”

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator, Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center

We recently had an opportunity to participate in the Denver Community Museum‘s latest challenge, “Bottled Up!” Here’s the challenge:

“What are the experiences you would like to preserve? Fill a bottle with the memories of people and places from your life. Saved material can take any form – messages, objects, smells, sounds, photos – anything that shares your story.”

We were intrigued, both with the challenge itself and with the idea of being part of an exhibit process that not only involves the community, but is completely created by the community. We got the staff of Discovery Science Center and the Fort Collins Museum together to brainstorm what we could create, and came up with a series of twelve bottles, with magnets in the lids, which are attached to a sheet of corrugated metal:


Each bottle contains a different item. Some items seem to be history related, some seem to be science related. Or are they so easy to classify? For example, one bottle contains the shed skin of DSC’s ball python, Slinky. We talked about how that could represent science — an animal’s natural process of shedding its skin — but how it could also represent history — the past history of the snake. We hope that visitors to the exhibit will see the different possible relationships and overlaps between the objects in the bottles — between science and history — and come up with their own classification systems by rearranging the bottles on the metal sheet.

Here’s what we wrote to explain the exhibit:

“Making Sense of the World

As human beings, we seem to have a natural urge to classify things. From Aristotle to Linnaeus to you putting socks in one drawer and t-shirts in another, it’s one of the ways we use to make sense of our world.

Museums certainly do this – we are the quintessential classifiers. Besides classifying little things, like butterflies, we make big distinctions: this is art. This is history. This is science. And we organize our stuff accordingly.

At the Fort Collins Museum and Discovery Science Center, we’re a history museum and a hands-on science center merging into one institution. So we’re spending a lot of time thinking about the relationships between history and science and looking for new ways to look at what we do.

These bottles contain some science stuff and some history stuff. Or do they? Which is which, or does it matter? Do you see relationships among these bottles? Make your own classifications.”

Here’s a visitor at the Denver Community Museum leaving a comment about our exhibit (photo courtesy of Jaime Kopke, Curator):


“Bottled Up!” opened March 13 and runs through April 3rd at the Denver Community Museum. Hours are Thursdays, 2 – 7 pm and Fridays and Saturdays, 12 – 5 pm. Admission is free, and the museum is located at 1610 Little Raven St. Suite 120 in Denver.

The “World Window” at DSC

Last Saturday visitors to Discovery Science Center were treated to a program presented by Dr. Andrew Warnock of Colorado State University’s Center for Science, Mathematics and Technology Education (CSMATE), featuring his World Window — a fantastic interactive 3-D visualization system. Which explains the stylish glasses!

The audience enjoys the "Discover 3-D" program

The audience enjoys the "Discover 3-D" program

Show-goers watched amazing natural phenomena in 3-D, including the eruption of the Paricutin volcano. According to Dr. Warnock, “The 3rd dimension is a critical element of imagination that is missing from the worksheets, textbooks, and computer screens that dominate classrooms today.” This was a really fun way to introduce kids to a new way of seeing science, and they had a chance to make their own 3-D picture to take home.

Don’t disturb those artifacts! (And here’s why.)

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation, and Dr. Brenda Martin, Curator, Fort Collins Museum

In the first part of this post, we talked about what to do if you come across an artifact or other cultural resource while out enjoying our natural areas and open spaces in and around Fort Collins. Here are the reasons why you should not disturb them:

IT IS DISRESPECTFUL: These resources are part of the cultural legacy of people who have lived here, and leaving them alone demonstrates respect for the people who made them or owned them. It also allows others to enjoy them today and in the future. Many Native American groups with ties to this area believe that objects are still connected to the people who made them, and collecting them disrupts those connections between the present and past peoples and the land.

IT IS ILLEGAL: According to Colorado State law, it is illegal to knowingly take a single artifact, or excavate, damage, or destroy any prehistorical or historical resources on land owned by the City of Fort Collins. A person can be fined for a misdemeanor and offenders may face a fine, time in jail, or both.

IT IS A LOSS: Once an object is removed from its surroundings, it loses its ability to educate us about the past. Additionally, objects are often fragile and when people handle them they can break, or the oils and acids on our skin can permanently damage them.

REMEMBER: The most effective things you can do to help preserve our cultural heritage is to have respect for the artifacts and the people who made them, the laws protecting them, and to leave them alone if you find them. If you do find an artifact, please contact a reliable resource (such as the Fort Collins Museum at 970-221-6738) as soon as you can.


Twenty Years of Discovery: A Science Celebration!


by Jason Wolvington, Associate Director, Discovery Science Center

We’ve reached a milestone here at Discovery Science Center: founded as a non-profit organization in 1989, 2009 marks our 20th year offering hands-on explorations in science and technology for Fort Collins and the surrounding region! Housing more than 120 interactive exhibits, DSC offers a variety of programming, from planetarium shows and special classes to guest presenters and rotating exhibits.

Come celebrate with us! From March 17 through 21, drop by between 11:00 – 2:00 to take part in fun science experiments and demos, with different science topics each day of the week.

Tuesday, March 17 Voyage to the Moon!
Visit our special Moon Phase StarLab shows at 11 am and 1 pm, and make some lunar and stellar projects to take home.

Wednesday, March 18 It’s a Chemical Thing
Chemical reactions cause all sorts of changes! Make balloons inflate (without using your breath!), discover the amazing properties of dry ice, and see how a battery works.

Thursday, March 19 Spectacular Food Science
Explore the recipes for exciting food experiments-from ice cream and butter, to exploding Mentos soda fountains. Enjoy a slice of DSC birthday cake while you’re here!

Friday, March 20 It’s a Small World After All
Delve into the super small world of nano science! Hands-on activities provide a view into the microscopic nano world, with demonstrations showing current nanotechnology research.

Saturday, March 21 Assemble and Take Apart Day
Take-Apart Day is one of the most popular events here at DSC. This time, visitors can also put engineering minds to work by constructing towers and structures…using spaghetti noodles and marshmallows!

Check out photos from First Friday!

The First Friday event at the Fort Collins Museum last week was a great success! We had a full house in the Gallery to listen to traditional Irish fiddle music with “antique musicians” Larry Lashley and Ben Alexander. Our friends from Discovery Science Center were also on hand to talk about serpent legends and myths with their wonderful ball python, Slinky! Go to our Flickr site to see all the pictures (many thanks to our photographer Melanie Barge), and join us in April for our next First Friday event, “The Move to Fort Collins: Local History Stories of Immigration.”


Ben Alexander and Larry Lashley perform at First Friday


March 2009

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