News from the Balloon Fiesta Newsletter

Jul 21, 2017

Inside the Basket- Mary Ann Harness – NASA Exhibit Lead


Mary Ann Harness has worked for over 21 years in the public affairs office at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center (formerly Dryden) located on Edwards Air Force Base in California. NASA, which stands for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has10 different centers, and the Armstrong Flight Research Center is the premier center for atmospheric flight research and testing.

For over 10 years, Mary Ann has led the NASA exhibit at Balloon Fiesta, located in the Balloon Discovery Center. In this month’s Inside the Basket, Mary Ann shares her love of teaching the public about all things related to aeronautics, from why high altitude flying requires a high-altitude pressure suit to what cool new aircrafts are currently being developed.

How did you become involved with Balloon Fiesta?

The first “A” in NASA is aeronautics. When our NASA Center was asked to be the lead for the NASA exhibit at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, we jumped at the chance and have been doing it for close to 10 years. It is an awesome event and never gets any less exciting. We appreciate the opportunity to participate in the Balloon Fiesta.

What is your favorite part about NASA’s involvement with the event?

Besides informing a large public audience on what NASA is currently doing as they walk through our exhibit, my favorite part of the event is taking advantage of being in the area to take the opportunity to visit schools surrounding the [Balloon Fiesta]. We also had former Astronaut Mike Mullane speak at the NASA exhibit one day during the event.

What knowledge or insight do you hope visitors are able to take away from the Balloon Fiesta NASA exhibit?

We hope visitors will walk away from the NASA exhibit knowing that NASA is working to make flying safer, more environmentally friendly and quieter for you and me. We are showcasing upcoming airplanes on the horizon such as the X-57 Electric Propulsion Aircraft, a low-boom supersonic aircraft, a blended winged body aircraft and more.

Visitors can learn about our 747 SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) and that even teachers from New Mexico have flown on the aircraft. There are models of all these aircraft for viewing. There is also a scientific balloon exhibit from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia showing how NASA uses balloons for research. In the exhibit, visitors will also find out why high altitude flying requires a high-altitude pressure suit and watch a demonstration showing how pilots wear these suits to fly aircraft. You can also walk away with a complimentary NASA photo and a souvenir penny. Exciting, fun and hands on too!

Do you have a favorite balloon?

There are so many balloons that it is hard to pick a favorite. They are all so wonderful all by themselves. I think my favorite part is seeing all the balloons flying together. It is a sight like no other.

What part of Balloon Fiesta do you look forward to most?

I really look forward to being a part of the event every day.  It is exciting to reach so many visitors from all over the world and educate folks on what NASA is doing. Come see our exhibit at the Discovery Tent at the North end of the field. You will see the ½ scale inflatable F-18 right outside our door!