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USRA Lunar and Planetary Institute captivates stargazers during White House Astronomy Night

The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) , a research institute managed by Universities Space Research Association for NASA, provided a series of engaging and innovative experiences for the White House Astronomy Night on October 19, 2015. The event began in 2009, following President Barack Obama's call to action to expand access and opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Scientists, engineers, amateur astronomers, students and teachers from across the country gathered on the South Lawn for an evening of stargazing and learning.

The Lunar and Planetary Institute offered participants the opportunity to immerse in a series of presentations that explore the vastness of our incredible solar system. A portable planetarium , on loan from the Houston Museum of Natural Science, presented exciting three-dimensional visualizations of space and the solar system. In a speech introducing the activities for White House Astronomy Night, LPI's planetarium exhibit was mentioned when President Obama said, "We have some incredible exhibits...we've got a mini planetarium." The event was broadcast live on White House LIVE, NASA TV, and other outlets. Watch the full event, including President Obama's speech, here .

USRA-LPI staff setting up the planetarium on the White House South Lawn

Image: Staff from USRA's LPI stand in front of the portable planetarium on the South Lawn of the White House just before events began during the White House Astronomy Night on October 19, 2015. Left to right: Amanda Smith Hackler, Education and Public Engagement Manager, Andrew Shaner, Education Specialist, and Christine Shupla, Formal Education Lead Specialist.

The experience offered by USRA also included an interactive discussion of the sky and an exploration of the planets highlighting NASA's recent discoveries - particularly Mars and Pluto. Participants also listened to captivating stories, as told by Native American Master Storytellers , that examine the mysteries of our universe.

Many visited the exhibit hosted by LPI, including NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, pictured below with a USRA Education Specialist. Also, White House Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, and his three children gathered inside the planetarium to enjoy the presentation.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Andrew Shaner, USRA-LPI Education Specialist

Image: NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Andrew Shaner, USRA-LPI Education Specialist.

"The White House Astronomy Night provides an exceptional opportunity for students to engage in immersive STEM learning activities in a very positive environment," said Amanda Smith Hackler, Ed.D., USRA-LPI Education and Public Engagement Manager. "These outreach efforts are essential to stimulating interest among a new generation in STEM, and to strengthening the workforce pipeline of the future. The Lunar and Planetary Institute is pleased to support this unique effort, and offer students the opportunity to learn more about the excitement of astronomy."

The portable planetarium was developed from collaborative efforts between Carolyn Summers of the Houston Museum of National Science and Professor Patricia Reiff of the Rice University Department of Physics and Astronomy. Reiff is also a Rice University representative and former Chair of the USRA Council of Institutions - a group of 105 Ph.D.-granting universities that ensures broad public oversight of USRA, as it pursues its nonprofit purpose of "development and application of space-related science, technology, and engineering."

About USRA

Universities Space Research Association is an independent, nonprofit research corporation where the combined efforts of in-house talent and university-based expertise merge to advance space science and technology. USRA works across disciplines including biomedicine, planetary science, astrophysics, and engineering and integrates those competencies into applications ranging from fundamental research to facility management and operations. USRA engages the creativity and authoritative expertise of the research community to develop and deliver sophisticated, forward-looking solutions to Federal agencies and other government sponsors.

About LPI

The Lunar and Planetary Institute, a division of the Universities Space Research Association, was established during the Apollo missions to foster international collaboration and to serve as a repository for information gathered during the early years of the space program. Today, the LPI is an intellectual leader in lunar and planetary science. The Institute serves as a scientific forum attracting world-class visiting scientists, postdoctoral fellows, students, and resident experts; supports and serves the research community through newsletters, meetings, and other activities; collects and disseminates planetary data while facilitating the community's access to NASA science; and engages, excites, and educates the public about space science and invests in the development of future generations of explorers. The research carried out at LPI supports NASA's efforts to explore the solar system.