Discovery Park of America hosts Space and Flight Month

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Four-year-old Bennett Stanford Black poses in his spacesuit that Santa brought him for Christmas. He is the son of Andrea and Brian Black of Dyersburg. In the background, Amy, Bradd, Amber and Nathan Finch of Troy, Tenn. speak with astronauts Robert 'Hoot' Gibson and Dr. Rhea Seddon who met the public during a special 'Meet the Astronauts' event at Discovery Park of America this past Saturday. Gibson and Seddon donated their NASA flight-training suits to Discovery Park during a special 'Dine with the Astronauts' event on Friday night. Longtime friends of Troy, Tenn. resident Diane Bell, Gibson and Seddon donated their time and their training suits to Discovery Park because they believe in the park's mission to educate people and allow them to 'see beyond' their current level of knowledge.

UNION CITY, Tenn. - David Haggar, interpretive ranger from Reelfoot Lake State Park, and his "birds of prey" demonstration provided the grand finale for what has been a monthlong series of events at Discovery Park of America in Union City, Tenn.

January was designated 'Space and Flight Month' at Discovery Park and brought in more than 15,000 visitors through the doors.

"We have been amazed," said CEO Jim Rippy. "For over 15,000 people to come to Discovery Park in the coldest, dreariest, iciest month of the year is just phenomenal."

Discovery Park of America is the nation's newest attraction, costing over $100 million to build. Since opening on Nov. 1, 2013, the park has already had over 55,700 visitors to the rural Northwest Tennessee region.

"I really think we have Diane Bell to thank for what has happened in January," Rippy explained. "Because of her relationship with astronauts Robert 'Hoot' Gibson and Dr. Rhea Seddon, they not only donated their flight suits, but also gave of their time to conduct several speaking engagements and meet the public at Discovery Park to help champion our cause."

Bell, a local aerospace instructor from Troy, Tenn., said that she attributes the success to the generosity and kindness of astronauts Gibson and Seddon.

"This all happened because Hoot and Rhea are such wonderful people," said Bell.

"Dine with the Astronauts" was the first event planned, according to Discovery Park Event Director Melissa Caldwell. But, once the staff got involved, the monthlong list of activities grew to include:

Astronauts Capt. Robert 'Hoot' Gibson (far left) and Dr. Rhea Seddon (far right) present a collage of pictures to Discovery Park of America during a special 'Dine with the Astronaut' dinner on Friday evening. Gibson and Seddon are husband and wife and during their careers as astronauts, flew a combined total of eight space shuttle missions. Due to NASA guidelines the couple were not permitted to fly together on these missions. From left: Capt. Robert 'Hoot' Gibson, Martha Rippy, Discovery Park CEO Jim Rippy, and Dr. Rhea Seddon.
Kacey Putz, aquarium and wildlife coordinator for the Discovery Park of America shows an owl to a large crowd during a birds of prey demonstration held Sunday afternoon at the park. Over 100 people turned out to see David Haggar, interpretive ranger from Reelfoot Lake State Park, conduct the demonstration, which was part of the month long 'Space and Flight Month' event hosted by the park.

* Janet's Planets - a temporary space display, which will continue until Feb. 6

* Stargazing with Dr. Lionel Crews

* Helicopter rides provided by local pilot Mike Rinker, who also did an aerial demonstration

* Numerous lectures and other various activities.

"We had something going on every weekend, and many weekends we had multiple activities," said Caldwell. "They were all extremely well attended, with standing room only in some cases."

Discovery Park officials are busy planning a big "Grand Opening" monthlong series of events for May, followed by a summer concert series, a fried-food festival, a Fourth of July firework display, a pumpkin festival, and other events and festivities. "As we finalize events and activities, there will be information available on our website," said Caldwell.

Discovery Park of America is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The park is a unique blend of history and technology, knowledge and fun. To find out more about Discovery Park of America, visit the website at .

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