Week 11: Goddard Visitor Center

Goddard Space Flight Center mission: to expand our knowledge of Earth, the solar system, and the universe through observations from space and through scientific discovery.

It was somewhat of a milestone in the Weekly Museum Visits project: someone specifically asked me to come visit their museum! Yes, it was someone I already knew, and yes, museum people generally want others to visit their museums, but I’ll still think of it as a milestone.

Catherine is an alum of the Museum Education Program at GW (she graduated a year before me) and was briefly my supervisor during a data collection study at the National Museum of Natural History. Today, she works for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland, in informal education at the Goddard Visitor Center. While I explored the museum, she was launching rockets with a visiting group. Afterward, she gave me a behind-the-scenes tour.

John Falk’s research into museum visitors’ motivations led him to name five museum visitor identities: explorer, professional/hobbyist, experience seeker, facilitator, and spiritual pilgrim (later renamed recharger). No one has a fixed identity, but rather, the identity can depend on the museum and the circumstances and the mood you’re in, and can even vary from moment to moment within a visit. When I heard Falk speak, he did mention, however, that museum professionals are always (in part) professionals/hobbyists when visiting other museums, because we are learning about how things are done at a museum as well as the content the museum is presenting.

I was definitely a professional/hobbyist at Goddard as I looked at the setup of exhibits and especially as I listened to Catherine describe the educational programming at the visitor center and space flight center. She introduced me to some of her colleagues in the education department and showed me the resources educators use at NASA.

In addition to enacting my professional/hobbyist identity, I was also a recharger that day. That is, I sought a “contemplative, spiritual and/or restorative experience.” To see beautiful photographs of the universe, and to learn about how old it is, is awe-inspiring. And I was mesmerized by the plasma sphere, which shows the state of matter that is so rare on earth but so common in outer space.

Plasma at Goddard Visitor Center. I altered the contrast (more than usual) in the photo, as the plasma is easier to distinguish in real life.

The visitor center has interactive exhibits, a sphere-shaped movie screen, and a rocket garden (like a sculpture garden, but with rockets). I must warn any potential visitors that it is easy to get lost on the way there, especially if you’re using public transportation, because the complex is so large and not right in an urban area. Know exactly which building you want to get to and how to get there; don’t get “lost in space” like I did!

About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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