This weekend was our first ever visit to London’s O2 arena where we were excited to attend the European Space Agency’s ‘Space Rocks’ event. The first of its kind, the event aimed to celebrate space exploration through the medium of music and culture.
The event took place over three ‘sessions’ throughout the day. As we would need to return home fairly early to get ready for school on Monday, we chose to attend the first session, ‘Space Academy’, which featured a panel of experts from different doctrines of space science who talked about their work and took part in a Q&A session.
All of the panelists had fascinating stories to tell. Dr Maggie Lieu, an astrophysicist based in Madrid, kicked off the session with a talk about ‘dark matter’ in the universe, which, honestly, mostly went over my head, but was intriguing despite my non-scientific brain not really being able to make sense of it. Noah, due to the humidity in London and a very busy weekend had actually fallen asleep for this part of the session!
Matt Taylor, who headed the team that landed a spacecraft on a comet, I feel, was a great choice of speaker to resonate with the younger members of the audience. He admitted that he was never a straight A student and had to repeat some exams and explained the path he followed to success.
When Noah woke up, Beth Healey, Extreme Environments Medic, was engaging the younger audience with interactivity in her talk. She had some wonderful photos of her fourteen month trip to Antarctica that gave me major wanderlust.
ESA astronaut, Tim Peake, continues to inspire and encourage children to take an interest in science and space. His talk described what it was like for him going to the International Space Station in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. He also talked about the future of space exploration, the eventual goals of building a moon base and humans venturing to Mars.
Before the session, Noah had been lucky enough to bump into Tim Peake in the foyer and asked him if it was good going to the International Space Station. He was kind enough to pose for a picture. I had a lump in my throat watching my little one living out his dream of meeting his hero.
Alongside the sessions, there was a ‘space lounge’ that all guests could visit. There were some great displays, freebies and information from organizations such as the European Space Agency (thanks for the cute pin badges) and the Royal Observatory. There was also a programme of talks taking place in the space lounge that really seemed to be engaging the audience of all ages, however we didn’t spend long in the lounge as, for us, it was a little too crowded.
Despite the limited capacity in the lounge, I was impressed with the Indigo at the O2 as a venue. We had backpacks with us as we had come straight from checking out of our hotel, so I was relieved that there was a reasonably priced (£2 per bag) cloakroom available. For the sessions, there were plenty of seats for everyone so it didn’t feel like there was a mad scramble to find somewhere to sit. Afterwards, we were hungry and I was pleasantly surprised that the O2 had a good variety of child friendly restaurants that were not busy so we were able to relax and eat straight away. The close proximity to North Greenwich underground station was also really useful.
Towards the end of the Space Academy session, all the panelists returned to the stage for a Q&A session. A lot of the younger audience members came up with some really interesting and challenging questions for the experts, it was great to see kids taking such an interest in their work. My favourite question that was raised was whether the panelists thought that we should be exploring space or turning our attention to looking after the Earth, which was incredibly apt due to the fact that it was also Earth Day. The panelists gave some very valid reasons for their belief that the human race can, and should, do both.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Space Rocks, as short as it was. Later in the day, two more sessions would follow; a panel discussion about “Science Fiction vs. Science Fact” and a musical celebration featuring bands, Lonely Robot and Arcane Roots. We would have loved to have attended the full day. I would love to suggest, that for the next Space Rocks event, to organisers strongly consider holding it on a Saturday or during the school holidays, or mix up the programme a little, perhaps have a music session earlier in the day as well? All in all, a fantastic event that really gets kids (and adults) thinking about space exploration and celebrating all things out of this world.