- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2017

Anyone can use science to help improve and preserve the environment, NASA scientists told hundreds of students at the agency’s annual “Earth Day in the Nation's Capital” event Thursday.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist — you don’t even have to be an adult — to make life better on this planet,” said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division at NASA.

Earth Day is celebrated worldwide on April 22. But for the last five years, NASA has honored the day with an activity-packed event aimed at educating people of all ages about the agency’s mission and focus on environmental science.

Groups of students and educators poured into Union Station’s main hall to watch interactive demonstrations, participate in science experiments and meet NASA astronaut Scott Altman.

The event stage featured a 6-foot-tall Hyperwall display, with nine high-definition screens showing detailed satellite images and animations. Surrounding the stage, NASA employees at 20 educational booths answered participants’ questions and gave demonstrations on subjects like pollution and the earth’s atmosphere.

The free program is meant to engage students and the general public in science, said NASA outreach coordinator Winnie Humberson, who helped organize the event.

“A lot of people think there’s a disconnect between science and their individual everyday experiences,” she said. “We want to raise awareness for the importance of science and relate it to everyday life.”

NASA spokesman Sean Potter said roughly 3,000 to 5,000 people typically take part in the program, which was on the National Mall for nearly 20 years. NASA moved the event to Union Station in 2013.

Turnout for the event has increased since NASA began setting up educational booths and activity areas in Washington’s central transportation hub, Mr. Potter said.

“It allows us to potentially reach folks who are just passing through, on their way to work or on a business trip, who might not otherwise know this was going on,” he said.

Virgil Carman, Jr., president of Men Empowering Nations, a New Jersey-based mentorship organization, said his group of 48 students and parents were excited to make the trip to Washington this year for the Earth Day celebration.

“This is our second year attending all together,” said Mr. Carman, adding that his niece, a scientist at NASA, encouraged him to bring his students to the event last year. “We thought it’d be a great way to teach our kids the value of science education.”

He said the program’s hands-on experiments have resonated with his group of students, who are all boys between 8 and 18 years old.

“They love sports, so the hands-on part of this is the most important,” he said. “I’m trying to show them life’s not all about basketball.”

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