Mars Day!

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Just a few weeks after the White House released its new National Space Policy, stating its intent for NASA to send humans to orbit Mars by the mid-2030s (among other things), the National Air and Space Museum hosts its annual Mars Day. The event, now in its 15th year, will be held next Friday, July 16, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Mars Day promises a museum abuzz with activities for visitors young and old—from story times to presentations on the latest Mars research. In fact, it is the only day of the year when all of the museum's planetary scientists, many of whom provide the scientific support for NASA's Mars missions, are on the museum floor interacting with visitors. Even the director of NASA's planetary science division Jim Green will be in attendance to inform the public about ongoing and upcoming missions to Mars. And if that isn't enticing enough...

ATM's Five Reasons Why You Need to be at Mars Day:

1. To take an artistic tour through space. Artist Michael Benson's "Beyond: Visions of Planetary Landscapes," an exhibition of 148 restored and reprocessed photographs of space taken from unmanned interplanetary probes, has been on view since May 26. You've been meaning to head over to check it out, and now is your chance. Added bonus for visiting the exhibit on Mars Day: Planetary geologist Jim Zimbelman will be using the photographs as a jumping off point for discussing the major geologic features of the red planet, at 10 a.m. and again at 2 p.m.

2. To see a real meteorite that came from Mars. The National Museum of Natural History is loaning the National Air and Space Museum Mars meteorites—and a few scientists who are particularly knowledgeable about them—just for the day. The scientists will be stationed at the Milestones of Flight exhibit.

3. To imagine a Mars Rover exploring the planet's surface. The museum's full-scale model of a Mars Exploration Rover (MER) has just recently been reinstalled in the Exploring the Planets exhibit. (Maybe you missed it your last visit?) MER Science Team Member John Grant will be on hand to paint a clearer picture of the rovers' current operations on Mars.

4. To test your own rover maneuvering skills. The museum won't let you lose on a life-size rover, but there will be mini-robot explorers on hand in the Independence Lobby. In past years, curators have laid down mazes of tape on the lobby's carpet floor through which visitors can navigate the mini rovers and practice collecting samples with the gadgets' robotic arms.

5. To see Mars through rose-colored, 3D glasses. Also on display solely for Mars Day are the museum's 3D Mars landscape images. This always-popular station will be in Space Hall. Additional up-to-the-minute images of the planet, captured on current missions looking for landing sites on Mars, can be found in the Mars corner of the Exploring the Planets gallery.

For the full schedule of events, click here.

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