NASA big wigs for Scifest Africa

Visitors at this year’s Scifest Africa, South Africa’s National Science Festival, will have the opportunity to interact with a top-level NASA delegation including the American space agency’s Chief Scientist, Deputy Chief Technologist, Rosetta Mission Lead Project Scientist, and an astronaut who has logged more than 4,000 hours in space.

Participation by these scientists will focus on the John Webb Space Telescope, Mars Exploration Programme, New Horizons Mission, Rosetta Mission and NASA’s plans for a new era of space exploration.

Scifest Africa 2015, celebrating the theme “Science alight!” will be held in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape from 18 to 24 March. Since astronomers are accustomed to measuring distances in light years, the theme will not be a strange concept in this, the United Nations International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies.

One of the highlights of NASA’s presence at the festival will be a panel discussion at 18h30 on 18 March featuring NASA Chief Scientist, Dr Ellen Stofan and NASA Rosetta Mission Lead Project Scientist, Dr Claudia Alexander, joined via Google Hangout from NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC by NASA Associate Administrator: Science Mission Directorate and former astronaut, John Grunsfeld, as well as JWST Senior Project Scientist and Nobel Prize Winner, Dr John Mather.

While one would be forgiven for feeling rather intimidated, and even NASA admits the presence of these great minds in one space is a rare occurrence, this incredible conversation is aimed at the general public and will invite questions from the audience on... well, pretty much anything NASA.

Visitors to the festival will also have the opportunity to meet three drivers of the Curiosity Rover during a Google Hangout at 15h00 on 21 March. The Curiosity Rover, a six-wheeled remote-controlled vehicle that is currently navigating its way through the Gale Crater on the planet Mars, is sure to prompt many questions: Do you need a licence to drive on another planet? What kind of equipment do you need to guide a rover on Mars – a steering wheel, joystick or a keyboard? Who decides on where the Curiosity should go, and how are these decisions reached?

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