BEIRUT: A small, cozy, garden-like room seemed like an odd choice for a space theme when looking at the neutral tones of brown, and the greenery hanging from the ceiling. And yet, joined by inflatable astronauts and black, white, and purple balloons, with a galaxy-themed soundtrack in the back, it created the perfect atmosphere for space meets Earth.
It set the tone right for the purpose of World Space Week, which brought the outer world closer, starting Friday in the boho-chic restaurant in Mar Mikhael, The Sage Parlour, for the second time in Lebanon.
The star of the hour, National Coordinator and astrophysicist Dr. Cyrine Nehme oozed cosmic energy; from her black-on-black attire to the golden star earrings, there was no doubt that Nehme was space personified. In collaboration with Notre-Dame University, the only Lebanese university to offer masters in Astrophysics, the week took off.
“We pinned Lebanon on the worldwide map of World Space Week,” said Nehme in reference to Lebanon’s inaugural participation. According to Nehme, a woman who was simply passionate about space, named Marie-Jo Chahine, is the reason this happened.
Chahine had tagged the UN on social media until it got their attention. Although small, last October left a lasting mark on those who were involved.
Nehme was assigned the role of National Coordinator back in July this year, and while at first, the plan was to create another relatively small event, she was inspired to go bigger.
“When I went to Qatar and Abu Dhabi, they did AstroCon 2019, and 90 percent of the organizers were women,” said Nehme. “It was really refreshing. I want people in Lebanon to know that there’s astrophysics here, that people are passionate, it’s not just masters and papers,” she added.
According to the World Space Week’s annual report, last year’s event, themed “Space Unites the World,” saw more than 5,000 events in 86 countries participating. This year’s theme is “The Moon: A Gateway to the Stars,” and, according to Nehme, this was not random.
“It’s a very important theme,” she said. “When science fiction meets reality, believe it or not, in 2024, we are going to the moon.”
What are we going to do there? We’re going to create life, Nheme said, where a dome will be built, “a moon village,” that is self-sustainable; where people will produce vegetables, oxygen, and more. “From the moon, we can go to Mars, and to the stars,” she added.
The goal of World Space Week is to educate and inspire people about all things related to space, and allow people to be aware of the benefits that could be available for us.
“Every particle of the interstellar medium is our particle,” said Nehme, adding: “The nitrogen in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the iron. We are studying life elsewhere.” In this context, it’s in fact a basic right for people to know more about space; it’s a part of us.
With this in mind, World Space Week is meant to reach a wide variety of people; not just scientists. This means the structure of each event is based on relatability; the language used is not a strictly academic one. Most events are interactive, using telescopes, and going up mountains for space observations. And there are workshops, where speakers tell stories, rather than lecture.
“We decided we’re not going to do astrophysical talks. We wanted it to be accessible to non-astrophysicists, and to children and artists. Space belongs to everyone,” Nehme noted.
Saturday featured storytelling of the Soviet space mission that had taken place prior to the American one, using pictures and animations, instead of hard facts. Sunday was supposed to feature a moon observation in Der el Qamar, which was unfortunately canceled due to bad weather conditions, and Monday is set to bring a stargazing night in Frozen Cherry.
In addition to education, workshops that involve painting and games related to space for kids were also available.
Imagination is a key factor in the study of space, and that of kids is being boxed by our society, said Maryam Nsaib, an engineer who became involved with World Space Week rather accidentally through her younger brother who loves space, and wanted to take part in NASA’s Scientist For a Day Contest.
“Kids love space, but then they hit the age of 10 and reality hits them,” said Nsaib. “More realistically, their parents force them to move away. If you show these kids that it’s okay to like space, and if you want to become an astronaut, you can, it’ll be helpful.”
Thanks to a young boy’s passion and an older sister’s determination, the contest came to Lebanon, and the results will come out on the closing day ceremony of World Space Week on Thursday.
World Space Week will go on until Oct. 10, with the week ahead filled with activities available for everyone who wants to give it a try. For more information and details about each event, check out their website, or their Instagram page @wswlebanon.
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