Heroes and Villains weren’t the only ones who took over the Colorado Convention Center during Denver Comic Con on June 30. NASA took over the Mile High Ballroom, holding back-to-back talks throughout the day on the state of American space exploration.
“This is the third year running that we’ve been doing these talks. We had a much smaller room last year and they bumped us up to a bigger room this year,” said Simon Porter, one of the scientists who hosted the Pluto panel. “This is not the first year we’ve been doing this. This has been a continual process and we like – we’re doing these missions to educate the public. We try and communicate this to the public as much as we possibly can.”
NASA scientists hosted panels that explored several topics. Cosplayers were treated to photographs and the latest findings from New Horizons, NASA’s Pluto mission. Other panels explored the science of popular comic and sci-fi franchises, such as Star Trek and Star Wars. There was even one panel aimed at teaching con-goers how to spot pseudoscience.
“For many of us, science fiction and the sort of stories that are told through comic books, especially those that involve outer space inspired a lot of people to do it for real,” said Amanda Zangari, another NASA scientist. Part of comic con’s mission, she said, was to educate the public. The convention is a good opportunity for scientists to come out and talk about what’s real and give people an inside look into what NASA is working on.
It’s also an opportunity for the space agency to show the public what their tax money is being spent on.
Having scientists reach out to the public in person also humanizes scientists. Porter said that scientists are portrayed as lab coat caricatures through the media and then noted that he doesn’t own a lab coat himself.
“I think we’ve been getting a lot of great feedback. These sessions are very popular,” said Anne Verbiscer, NASA researcher.
All three scientists were involved in the New Horizons mission to Pluto.
They also said that keeping the public informed so they could make good voting decisions was important. Outreach events like the one at DCC help achieve that goal.
Zangari said that teaching the public how science works helps people understand how things work and make better decisions about their world.
“I think science literacy is important because you can appreciate all that we’ve learned and how we’ve learned it and how we know that,” she said. “You can’t necessarily do that if you don’t understand where things come from and how.“