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Mars New Year Festival promises to be out of this world, literally

Visitors invited for ‘Mars Experience’
Mars Robotics Association coach Jeff Beckstead plans to make the maps a part of the robotics group's “Robotics Village” event at the Mars New Year Festival. Maps of the Red Planet and the moon will then be given to the Mars Area School District.

Coordinator Gregg Hartung, of the Mars New Year Festival, said this year the team is literally bringing the red planet to the borough Friday and Saturday, June 9 and 10.

“The (NASA) Jet Propulsion Lab tried this back in mid-April at their open house in Pasadena, Calif.,” Hartung said. “It’s like a tunnel you walk into and it’s the ‘Mars Experience.’”

The 16-foot tunnel will include footage and sound provided by NASA, he said, offering visitors a first look at what walking across the red dunes of Mars might be like for future colonists.

“You can walk through and get a sort of simulated experience to some degree, the best we can, in terms of being on the red planet,” Hartung said.

The simulation will be only the second showing in the United States after NASA Jet Propulsion Lab’s previous showing in April.

“That’s going to be really neat,” Hartung said. “That’ll be on Pittsburgh Street with NASA, too.”

NASA’s full exhibit on Pittsburgh Street also will feature a miniature eight-wheeled Mars rover, samples and rock cores from the planet, Hartung said.

“And they’re also going to provide us with three or four speakers (for) the event,” he said. “That will be on what we call the main stage, in and around where the spaceship (sculpture) is.”

While NASA’s extensive exhibition on Pittsburgh Street remains “one of the centerpieces” of the massive Mars New Year Festival, Hartung said visitors can expect a cadre of interactive exhibits spanning science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — STEAM.

“So we have ‘NASA row,’ basically, on Pittsburgh Street,” Hartung said, “and then also on Pittsburgh Street the Air Force is providing a flight simulator.”

Additionally, he said the U.S. Army will provide a climbing wall for visitors to challenge themselves.

“But also on Pittsburgh Street will be the ‘Moonshot Museum,’ which is connected with Astrobotic and everything they’re doing on the moon,” Hartung said.

A representative of the Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, an aerospace company, spoke at the Mars New Year Blast Off Dinner in late February about its Peregrine Mission 1 — the first commercial mission to the moon, and the first American landing on the moon since 1972.

The mission plans to take off from Florida carrying a diverse array of scientific instruments from around the world. The flight was initially planned for May 4, but has been delayed while the United Launch Alliance prepares the launch vehicle.

At 10 each night, Hartung said, the festival has organized drone performances with Firefly Drone Shows to close out the evenings.

“I think it’s right now 150 to 200 drones, and they’re choreographed to do maybe the American flag, they may do a UFO, those types of things,” Hartung said. “But they make all those images happen within a half-hour display — similar to, like, electronic fireworks.”

He said the group plans to have the drone show choreographed to music, as in previous years.

“It’s sort of a choreographed type of thing, just like fireworks are, but using drones to do all sorts of things in the sky,” Hartung said. “It’s really kind of cool.”

Something for everyone

And, as if drone shows are not enough, the 2023 Mars New Year Festival really does have something for everybody.

“There’re a lot of things going on at any given time,” Hartung said, including the potential exhibition of Mars’ 1900s Ford Model A mail truck in commemoration of the borough’s 150th anniversary.

“We’re going to park down near the post office; it will be an old antique postal truck that actually the Mars Historical Society has,” he said. “The Mars Historical Society will be open; they’ll be having train rides for kids and showing off historic Mars in terms of things of the past, things of the present and looking to the future.

“It’s kind of a mixed bag of past, present and future.”

While the antique truck’s exhibition is weather-dependent, Hartung said, the festival still has plenty to offer from that mixed bag.

“PPG will have an exhibit. Armstrong will have an exhibit. The Civil Air Patrol will be having an exhibit, plus some hands-on STEAM education things for teens and kids to do,” he said. “Charter Academy is bringing a robotic dog that will walk up and down the street.”

He said the academy also will have an exhibit on aquaponics agriculture, Diehl of Butler will bring an electric Jeep, and Duncan Alley will be transformed into “Art Alley” for the festival.

“In the alley right there, we’ll have Pittsburgh Glass (Center), and they’ll be actually blowing glass there with a machine," Hartung said. ”Then behind that will be novels and comic books that (local students) wrote about going to Mars.“

Kate Allen reviews and purchases a comic book created by students from Mars Area School District at a previous Mars New Year Festival. Butler Eagle File Photo

Art Alley also will feature published authors of space-themed novels who will have their books for sale and autograph them, and an art exhibit by Mars Area School District and Washington County students.

“We also have a costume contest on Saturday, related to Mars celebrating 150 years,” Hartung said. “We’ll have costumes judged and prizes given for best costumes.”

In the Advanced Community Church parking lot, Mars Robotics Association will host a “Robotic Village" with a ”Kids Zone“ next door. On Clay Avenue, the Pittsburgh Rocket Club will hold daily launches of model rockets.

For food and drink, Hartung said the festival will offer “a variety of things.”

“The two alcoholic options will be Stick City (Brewing Company) and Mazzotta Winery, and then we have the ‘Water from Mars’ in cans,” Hartung said. “There’ll be a variety of food trucks, plus there’ll be our places in town that are open, too.”

And while he said even that does not cover the full scope of the festival, Hartung emphasized it is, at its core, about education.

“The primary thing the festival is for is trying to get kids and young people and their families excited about STEAM education — possibly one day traveling to and living on the planet Mars,” Hartung said. “The whole idea is it’s an education festival that can bring about some cool opportunities for young people to think about their future.”

Much like the STEAM acronym, Hartung said the festival highlights the diverse opportunities for potential space explorers.

“Not that they necessarily have to be an astronaut, but there’s all sorts of things that play into making the space industry work,” Hartung said.

He said he hopes festival attendees will take away a respect and excitement for the multitude of professions that make space exploration possible.

“There’s going to be a variety of things and experiences giving people different, sort of, tastings of what it might be like to work in the space industry or travel to Mars,” Hartung said, “whatever it must be in terms of a future for our young people and their families.”

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