GVSU and Grand Rapids Public Museum collaborate on commemoration conference

GVL / Courtesy - James Richard Fry
The Planetarium at the Grand Rapids Public Museum

GVL / Courtesy – James Richard Fry The Planetarium at the Grand Rapids Public Museum

Nicole Bobb

Grand Valley State University will be co-hosting a two-day conference with the Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) to honor the life and work of Roger B. Chaffee.

The “Roger That!” conference will take place Friday, Feb. 10 and Saturday, Feb. 11.

A photo exhibition in the West Wall Gallery in the Eberhard Center on the Pew Campus documenting the life of Chaffee is on display from January 9 to March 31. The exhibition was made possible by the GVSU Art Gallery, the Chaffee Family and GRPM.

Chaffee was born in Grand Rapids and graduated from Grand Rapids Central High School. He went on to graduate with a degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University.

Chaffee served in the United States’ Navy as a Lieutenant Commander before working on a master’s degree in reliability engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Chaffee was recruited by NASA to be an astronaut on what is now known as the Apollo 1. He lost his life after a pre-flight test resulted in a tragic fire, but his courage and memory remains preserved and honored by his family and others who have continued his work.

The conference is designed for an academic audience and will feature speakers covering topics spanning from archeology to astronomy. The event is open to the public, as well.

All speakers at the conference will be addressing three main themes: space and science, space and the arts and space and society. Students in grades 6 through 12 will also present design challenges that attempt to solve challenges in space exploration.

GRPM expects to bring in many school groups from the West Michigan area for activities centered around space exploration through hands-on activities and a planetarium show located next to the Eberhard Center.

GRPM will also provide a variety of activities in conjunction with the conference for the public on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.., which are free after general admission to the museum. The winners of the design challenge will be announced at GVSU.

Tickets to the 11 a.m. conference presentation, “Discarded Worlds, Astronomical Ideas that were Almost Correct,” presented by Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory are available for purchase on the GRPM website.

“I think it’s a great sign of community collaboration to bring in so many people from these different areas within this community in order to educate about one cause,” said Kate Moore, vice president of marketing and public relations for GRPM.

GVSU professors Glen Swanson and Deana Weibel are co-organizers of the symposium and came up with the idea of honoring the 50th anniversary of Chaffee’s death.

“I used to work for NASA in the Johnson Center in Houston, Texas and one of the things that we always were cognizant of was if an anniversary date ended in zero or five, it was always usually a sign that something needed to be done,” Swanson said.

Swanson is a native of Grand Rapids and was aware of the legacy of Chaffee growing up, which sparked his interest in space throughout his middle and high school years.

“None of this would have been possible without our partnership with people here at Grand Valley and the museum,” Swanson said. “The affiliation with Grand Valley was just natural because of our relations but we also wanted to keep it to the West Michigan area in tribute and honor to Roger B. Chaffee.”