Roger That! conference this year offers a virtual conference with a vast slate of experts

Roger B. Chaffee
Astronaut Roger B. Chaffee was a graduate of Grand Rapids Central High School.
Image credit - Courtesy photo

For this year's fifth annual Roger That! conference, organizers like to point out that the "V" for the number five is for "virtual."

The format may be different this year, but the live streaming of the conference on February 19 and February 20 also means opportunities for expanded offerings, said Deana Weibel, event co-organizer and GVSU professor of anthropology.

“Going virtual has allowed us to include speakers from around the country and around the world (Australia and Vatican City) and will also allow conference participants to tune in from everywhere,” Weibel said. “For instance, we have a visual effects panel composed of Hugo, Emmy and Oscar awardees. Since this year’s event is virtual, we felt it was important to include discussion from members of an industry that helps take us where we can’t be.”

The conference celebrates space exploration and the life of Grand Rapids native Roger B. Chaffee. Chaffee, along with Gus Grissom and Ed White, died in 1967 during an Apollo I pre-flight test when a fire broke out in the cockpit.

Deana Weibel
Deana Weibel, a Grand Valley anthropology professor, is a co-organizer of the annual event.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Grand Valley is collaborating with the Grand Rapids Public Museum to offer a full slate of speakers and events, as well as educational opportunities for some K-12 students. Find information on registering for the event, which is open to the public, here.

The scientists, engineers, artists and other experts who are scheduled will explore a wide range of topics related to space exploration.

One of the experts who will speak is planetary scientist Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Wadhwa, an expert on meteorites, will give a presentation titled "Rocks from Space -- Visitors from Other Worlds That Helped Create Ours."

Wadhwa, who said she has a long interest in exploring not just the Earth but beyond, said studying meteorites has allowed her to more fully understand those expanded horizons.

Meenakshi Wadhwa is director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University.
Meenakshi Wadhwa is director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University.
Image credit - Courtesy photo

"Most people have the misconception that meteorites are this esoteric scientific area, but when you think about it, studying meteorites is really at the heart of all that we understand about our origins," Wadhwa said. "The age of the solar system, how did life originate -- meteorites have a way of answering those types of questions."

Wadhwa's work with meteorite samples includes time spent with a comprehensive collection at her university as well as in the field, where she said she has been fortunate to be part of expeditions such as the Antarctic Search for Meteorites program.

Looking ahead, one of the research opportunities Wadhwa is excited about is studying rock samples that are expected to be collected by the NASA rover Perseverance, which is scheduled to land on Mars next week, coincidentally the day before the start of the Roger That! event. She said studying rocks directly from Mars, rather than those transformed by being ejected from Mars and then landing and spending time on Earth, should provide interesting new perspectives.

"Mars is a fascinating place," Wadhwa said. "Earth and Mars once looked similar and then diverged substantially. Why do planets evolve on these trajectories?"


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