Blast-Off dinner helps ring in Mars New Year

March 22, 2019 Cranberry Local News

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ADAMS TWP — Though he spends most of his days trying to get exploration rovers to planet Mars, Jim Green perhaps has been most inspired by his first trip to the borough bearing the same name.

Green, chief scientist for NASA's planetary science division, first came to the borough in 2015 as part of the inaugural Mars New Year celebration.

Green said throughout the day, a young boy followed him around and asked questions. The two shared a cup of cocoa, drove miniature rovers and chatted some more, and Green left his card with the boy.

Nine months later, he received an email from the boy's father, who said his son had become obsessed with all things NASA and space. He even built a Lego version of Juno, the Jupiter rover Green had helped build and guide.

“And then he said 'Jim, thank you for the gravity assist,'” an emotional Green recalled Thursday during the third Mars New Year event at Twelve Oaks Mansion.

He explained the concept of gravity assist as an extra boost for a spacecraft — something that propels it forward. He said that concept applied to his interaction with the boy and others like him.

“We as scientists and engineers weren't born thinking we were going to be that,” he said. “Something happened along the way — an event, a person, a teacher, a book, an activity, landing on the moon. Something happened hat accelerates you forward and changes your direction so that you can meet that object, and in space we call that a gravity assist.”

Green went so far as to name his podcast series “Gravity Assist.” He interviews scientists and other experts about topics such as the moon and Mars, and ends each conversation with a simple question: what was your gravity assist?

“That is something that is happening, and it never occurred to me I could be that for someone,” he said. “This is why I'm passionate about coming back to Mars, Pennsylvania, because I want to give more kids gravity assist.”

Hundreds attended Thursday's dinner, and were able to see future scientists in action. A large robotics area was set up in the reception area, with students from various clubs giving demonstrations and showing off their inventions. Other speakers included John Thornton of Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, who showed off concepts and plans for how to commercialize travel to the moon. Green said these inventions, ideas and dreams are necessary in helping advance science in the future.

Also Thursday, Don Aiken was named 2019 Martian of the Year for his service to the community.

According to John Watson of the Mars Historical Society, Aiken has a combined 270 yeas of service through various organizations, including more than 40 years as an Adams Township supervisor. He's also is a life member of the Mars and Adams Township fire departments, as well as numerous other organizations and his business.

“He's one of those guys who just doesn't know the word 'no,'” Watson said of Aiken's ability to make progress happen over the years.

Aiken was given a statue of the planet Mars as part of the honor.

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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.