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North Hills Monthly

Mars Borough to Celebrate Planet Mars’ New Year in May

Apr 02, 2017 12:06PM ● By Vanessa Orr

Crowds at the 2015 Mars' New Year event

From May 4-6, the borough of Mars will be hosting an otherworldly celebration in honor of an event that only happens every 22 months—the dawning of a new year on the planet Mars. NASA scientists and even an astronaut will join in the festivities to mark the planet’s rotation around the sun, which takes 687 earth days to complete. 

“The first Mars’ New Year event was held two years ago; Mayor Greg Hartung came up with the idea,” explained spokesperson Missy Gralish. “He did the research, and found out that we’re the only place in the U.S. named Mars. So we reached out to NASA and asked them if they would be willing to collaborate on a Mars’ New Year event, and they were extremely excited since their goal is to colonize Mars by the year 2033.”

In collaboration with NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, Mars will be focusing on the theme of Exploration, Innovation, Celebration, and numerous activities are planned to mark the biennial event. 

“One of the goals of the celebration is to positively influence school-aged children about the importance of STEAM—science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics—and we’re doing this through a competition called Meet the MARS Challenge!” explained Gralish. “Open to students in grades 9-12, the challenge is similar to a science fair, with prizes worth $12,000.”

The premise of the competition is to identify the challenges that humans may encounter as the planet is being colonized, in the areas of Mechanical, Agricultural, Relationships and Survival (MARS). First, second and third place prizes will be awarded in each category, and the competition is open to students in any school district, as well as homeschoolers.

Numerous other events will take place during the three-day event, including a Blast-off Dinner on Thursday, May 4 at Twelve Oaks Mansion that will feature former astronaut Dr. Jay Apt as the keynote speaker. Tickets are $100 per person and the money raised goes toward supporting the New Year’s celebration.

On Friday and Saturday, downtown Mars will be filled with exhibits including an inflatable space launch system, inflatable Mars Rover, 3-D panorama of Mars, eight-wheel Roll Over Rover, astronaut pressurization chamber, and Mars rocks and meteorite, all courtesy of NASA; an inflatable planetarium from the Carnegie Science Center; the Pitt Mobile Science Lab; a 3-D Google glasses Journey to Mars; a robotics display and competition and more.

Presenters will include NASA engineers, scientists and educators, including Rachel Tillman and Dr. Michael Meyer; Douglas Terrier, chief technologist at the NASA Johnson Space Center; research scientist Dr. Shawn Wright, who works on projects at the space center, and two local women who attended school in Mars and went on to work at or with NASA—Kathryn Beckwith and April Lanotte.

Also on Friday, key members of the Mars mission team will be interviewed live via satellite from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and audience members will be able to ask questions about future missions to Mars.

“One other event that is really cool, especially for beer enthusiasts, is the Mars New Year Brew Fest on Friday from 6-9 p.m. in the library parking lot, put on by the Butler Area Society of Homebrewers,” said Gralish. “We have 15 breweries, wineries and distilleries committed; tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the event.”

Approximately 10,000 people are expected to attend the Mars New Year celebration, and there is no cost except for the Blast-off Dinner and Brew Fest. For more information, including a schedule and speakers’ bios, visit