Henry Throop spent the last three years living in Pretoria, South Africa, teaching astronomy at the University of Pretoria. Near his house one day, he passed a group of artists from Zimbabwe working on a street corner. They had an elaborate display of African animals, all made out of wire and glass beads—lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos, hippos—all of the well-known animals, and a few less so.
On a whim, Henry showed one of the artists some pictures of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft (he’s worked on the New Horizons team since 2003). About a week later, the model was done, and it looked great, so he had a few more made for other New Horizons’ team members. Someone at NASA Headquarters saw one and suggested they make a #MAVEN
model as well.
While some of the guys use plastic beads, the artist who made these spacecraft models uses only glass beads. Something the size of the MAVEN model probably takes two days to make the wire frame, and another two days to do the beading. All of it was done while sitting on a bucket on the sidewalk in Pretoria, where these men spend 9 to 10 hours-a-day sitting, talking, and beading through the sun and whatever else the African weather might bring.
Henry sent the model to MAVEN principal investigator, Bruce Jakosky, shown here with the final product. Moments like these are a reminder of how incredible and far-reaching space exploration really can be. From every corner of the vast universe to every street corner around our home planet, the creativity inspired by such endeavors has seemingly endless, rippling effects.
Henry is a Senior Scientist with the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona. He received a PhD in astrophysical & planetary sciences from the University of Colorado Boulder. He developed and taught a very popular astrobiology course in South Africa, where he just finished a two-year stay at the University of Pretoria. According to Henry, this was the first astrobiology course ever taught in all of Africa.