Theater club at NASA centre gives scientists creative outlet

GREENBELT, Md. — Susan Breon wears two hats: scientist and musician.

By day, she’s a cryogenics engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where she works on what she calls a “baby step toward a mission to Mars.” By night, she participates in Goddard’s Music and Drama Club, often known as MAD. She played keyboard for the club’s spring musical.

“The work here can get very intense,” said Breon, a 30-year NASA veteran. “We did our thermal vacuum testing a couple of months ago, and it was an around-the-clock, 24/7 operation.”

The club members include scientists, engineers and managers who work for NASA on projects including weather satellites and space telescopes, and they say the club is a creative outlet for them.

“We’ve got more engineers per square foot than any other theatre group around,” said Randy Barth, who directed the club’s latest musical, “Weird Romance.”

MAD has staged at least one show a year at Goddard since 1970, from “Oklahoma!” and “The Sound of Music” to science-fiction fare. Club members say it helps them with their day jobs and shows the public another side of scientists at the sprawling flight centre northeast of Washington.

Astrophysicist Kim Weaver is the club’s president. Doing theatre helps her connect with people who aren’t scientists, she says.

“When I say I’m an astrophysicist, I usually get a blank stare. So in order to get (people) to actually open up and smile at me, I then say I also do theatre, because that’s the part that they think is cool,” Weaver said. “You say you’re a scientist, and I think that scares people. They think they can’t talk to you.”

She was a graduate student intern when she saw a flyer about the club’s auditions for “Sweet Charity.” Making the show was what led her to take a job at Goddard.

“It really helped improve my chances, even in my career,” Weaver said. “I met some more senior astronomers who later on down the line were able to help steer me and guide me in my career path.”

“Weird Romance” combines science and drama.

In the first act, “The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” a corporate mogul creates his own celebrity using a beautiful, artificial body that is controlled by a homeless woman.

The second, “Her Pilgrim Soul,” was adapted from a “Twilight Zone” episode. In it, a projector shows holographic images of a woman that were not programmed into it, to the surprise of the scientists involved.

One of the production’s stage directions describes a character as having “a smile that could melt frozen methane.”

Breon considered that a good omen, since her job actually involves melting frozen methane.

“We have to do more than smile at it, though,” she joked.

Just Posted

Cannabis facility proposed for Clearwater County

Cannabis production facility proposed south of Caroline would produce 30,000 kg of cannabis a year

Two Central Alberta country singers are finalists in career-launching contest

They will attend music industry ‘boot camp’ this summer

Transit changes to aid Burman University students

An additional evening trip and student bus passes to be in place by fall

WATCH: Province, Maskwacis Cree Nations sign educational agreement

Funding and support will help the First Nations develop a Cree-based curriculum

WATCH: Red Deer celebrates World Refugee Day

The Central Alberta Refugee Effort hosted multiple events around Red Deer Wednesday

New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall wins Hart Trophy as NHL MVP

LAS VEGAS — Taylor Hall has won the Hart Trophy as the… Continue reading

Red Deer high school student psyched for SHAD

Lindsay Thurber’s Kaden Nivens will head to Newfoundland for the annual program in July

Red Deer College team tackles lack of Indigneous inclusion in research projects

A local college research team has completed a lengthy project examining the… Continue reading

Officials make case against parents accused of child abuse

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Prosecutors made their case Wednesday against a Southern California… Continue reading

Manitoba educational assistant sentenced to 3 1/5 years for sex with student

WINNIPEG — A former educational assistant in Winnipeg has been sentenced to… Continue reading

Conservatives can ‘win anywhere,’ Scheer says in welcoming Richard Martel

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer welcomed the newest member of his… Continue reading

Fans grieve as detectives search for XXXTentacion’s killers

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — For hours, the fans came in a steady… Continue reading

Canadian steel not a national security threat on its own: US commerce secretary

OTTAWA — The U.S. commerce secretary says Canada is not a national… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month