Andrea CarrollSep 28, 2012

Your Place In Space: On the Road at Homestead National Monument

Flanked by National Park Service rangers, Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye hurtled toward the outdoor stage at Homestead National Monument of America in Beatrice, Nebraska last weekend.

Then, to the cheers of thousands (3,750 by park estimates, including several who sported bow ties), and against a backdrop of trees and tallgrass prairie, he launched a session of dynamic science demonstrations, a lively and often humorous talk about sustainability, and far-ranging questions and answers with the audience.

Bill Nye on the outdoor stage at Homestead National Monument of America in Beatrice, Nebraska
Bill Nye on the outdoor stage at Homestead National Monument of America in Beatrice, Nebraska Image: The Planetary Society

Bill shared his experiences and his hopes for the future. He asked the audience to consider sustainability in terms of our planet and “your place in space.” He recalled the original homesteaders and urged the audience to follow their lead, doing "more with less".

From reminiscing about his days as a student in Carl Sagan’s astronomy course, to munching frozen marshmallows while spewing dragon-like billows of haze thanks to the liquid nitrogen used in the demonstration, to his impassioned plea to students and recent graduates to use science to make smart decisions and “change the world!” with solutions for renewable energy and research that leads to a cure for cancer, he called on all of us to respect and protect our place in space.

This wasn’t the first time The Planetary Society has partnered with Homestead as part of the monument’s year-long commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act (legislation that granted settlers, or "homesteaders" as they became known, 160 acres of free land). Homesteading new worlds was a topic that emerged as visitors to the monument’s Education Center admired a mural on loan since April from the Society, "From Longships to Spaceships: A Thousand Years of Exploration".

Planetary Society Member and internationally renowned space artist Michael Carroll painted the mural, and in the spring, talked at Homestead about the meaning of and hidden imagery in his work. This imagery clearly delighted viewers who, prior to Bill’s performance, crowded around the painted panels in search of spacecraft and planetary landmarks.

Visitors waiting for Bill’s talk to begin had plenty else to keep them interested and entertained. Lincoln-based musician Chris Sayre played a multitude of instruments and challenged the audience to “name that tune” as he drew a bow across a saw. Local high school teachers Dave Henning and Derek Niss put an autumnal spin on science with demonstrations that included a crowd-pleasing pumpkin explosion.

From all of us at The Planetary Society, thank you! A special thank you to the staff and volunteers of Homestead National Monument, and to all the others who made this a great event! Thank you, too, to the National Parks Foundation and local funders, whose grant helped make this program free to the public. Thank you to the many Planetary Society Members who traveled to join us, and thank you to our newest Planetary Society Members. You, too, can become a Member.

We were delighted as well, that students traveled from near and far: from Beatrice, Nebraska; Marysville, Kansas; Texas A&M; Doane College in Crete, Nebraska; University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Physics Club); and University of Nebraska-Omaha; to name just a few.

Please visit Homestead National Monument of America – if you can’t get there in person, explore their website.

Want to read some Q&A with Bill Nye? Daily Nebraskan reporters Kekeli Dawes and Cara Wilwerding captured the spirit of the day, as well as Bill’s thoughts on topics ranging from climate change to dry ice.

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