Mars New Year blasts off with dinner

March 20, 2019 Cranberry Local News


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MARS — The committee planning this week's Mars New Year celebration hope attendees will have a blast.

To ensure that, the committee is bringing in presenters that not only have deep knowledge of the Red Planet, but have played a large part in mankind gaining a better understanding of what is happening there.

Jim Green, NASA chief scientist, and John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotics, will be the featured speakers at Thursday's Mars New Year Blast-Off Dinner.

The evening's events, which begin at 6 p.m., are in celebration of the planet Mars' New Year, which happens every 687 days.

This year, the actual date falls on Saturday, but the borough will start the first of three celebrations with Thursday's dinner at Twelve Oaks Mansion, 160 Scharberry Lane, Mars. The business-casual event offers dinner and a cash bar, and will feature a keynote address by Green.

Green has a doctorate in space physics from the University of Iowa. He began working in the Magnetospheric Physics Branch at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in 1980. There he developed and managed the Space Physics Analysis Network, which gives scientists access to data, other scientists and specific NASA computer and information resources.

Green's presentation will focus on space travel and putting humans on Mars.

According to Mars Mayor Gregg Hartung, Green's presentation is even more exciting this year given the recent launch of the Falcon rocket, which is taking a space capsule into orbit and docking with the International Space Station.

“I think it is timely for us to hold such an event ... with all the collaboration that is happening between private industry like Space X and NASA with other entities like Boeing to ultimately have humans set foot on the planet Mars,” Hartung said.

Green said significant progress has been made in efforts to land a human on Mars, but in the meantime he is anticipating returning to Mars borough for its third New Year event.

“It was eye-opening to me at the first Mars New Year Celebration in 2015 how engaged young people are in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) education through events like what happens in Mars, Pa.,” he said.

Thornton will also be featured at the dinner to discuss his company's efforts to make deliveries to the International Space Station and the moon.

In addition, the Mars Robotics Club will demonstrate its work.

Tickets are limited to 175. Hartung said only a few remain.

The celebration continues Friday morning, when Green will address more than 80 area students during “Breakfast with NASA” at 9 a.m. at the MSA Auditorium at the Regional Learning Alliance, 850 Cranberry Woods Drive, Cranberry Woods.

Hartung said Green will speak with students about their career plans and interest in STEAM education. He added six of the eight school districts represented are from Butler County, with about 120 students attending overall.

Hartung said one of the major goals of the New Year celebrations is to let students know there are activities available to them outside of the traditional subjects such as music and sports. He said showcasing STEAM and robotics work could cause a student to pursue a different career path.

“It will be the generation coming to our Mars New Year events in 2019 that will be the scientists, technicians, engineers, designers and mathematicians who take us to the Red Planet and beyond,” Hartung said.

This week's events are the “launch pad” for additional celebrations later in the spring, Hartung said.

Mars Exploration Celebration Days are planned for May 31 through June 2 in downtown Mars and will be larger than in the past.

“The whole thing is growing to the point where we're taking up a third of the town,” he said. “That's a good sign that people are really interested.”

The Celebration Days feature family-oriented events aimed at promoting STEAM education and student work.

Hartung said NASA officials are committed to returning for that weekend.

The year's events wrap up with the Mars Brew Fest, set from 6 to 9 p.m. June 22. The event serves as a fundraiser for Mars New Year, and is also doubling in size, Hartung said.

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J.W.  Johnson Jr.

J.W. Johnson Jr.

J.W. Johnson Jr. is the bureau chief of the Cranberry Eagle. Johnson is a native of Bellaire, Ohio, and graduated from Bellaire High School in 2004. He is a 2009 graduate of Ohio University in Athens with a bachelor of specialized studies degree in English and journalism. While there, he served as a reporter and editor at The Post, the university’s student-run, independent newspaper. In 2009, he was hired as a reporter for The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register in Wheeling, W.Va. Over the course of eight years, he also served as Marshall County bureau chief, city editor and news editor. He also won two first place West Virginia Press Association Awards for his reporting and design work. He and his wife, Maureen, live in Carnegie.