The Vesta Fiesta Story: Highlights from Our Worldwide Celebration
A father and son holding comet on a stick creations
Vesta-goers with their models: Comet on a Stick. Image credit: McREL

January 4, 2012 - PASADENA, Calif. -- Dawn set a precedent on July 16, 2011 as the first spacecraft to orbit a body in the asteroid belt, Vesta. It was time for a worldwide celebration! Vesta Fiesta marked over 110 sites on five continents. Public outreach included events at museums, observatories, schools, planetaria, and other public venues. The flagship event occurred in Pasadena, CA at the Pasadena Convention Center August 6, 2011: over 1100 people were in attendance!

Flagship Vesta Fiesta

Who made it happen? Over 40 staff and volunteers from NASA Solar System Ambassadors, JPL, McREL, and The Planetary Society combined their talents to create a celebration of space exploration. Activities for all ages highlighted NASA's Discovery Program missions to small bodies: Dawn, Stardust-NeXT, EPOXI, and Rosetta. Comets flew by, meteorite mysteries were revealed; asteroids cratered, ion engines modeled.

Dr. Claudia Alexander and assistant creating a kitchen comet
Dr. Claudia Alexander builds a model of an outgassing comet nucleus! Image Credit: McREL
  • Bill Nye helped kick off the event with a recorded message about the excitement of exploration, heralding NASA’s Dawn and Juno missions.
  • Dr. Claudia Alexander, Project Manager for the US Rosetta mission, created an outgassing “kitchen comet” right on stage!
  • Fiesta-goers engaged in robust conversations around the new discoveries being made every day with scientists, volunteers and Dawn E/PO staff.
  • Models and gorgeous NASA graphics illustrated key concepts.

Mission Science and Engineering

Hoots and hollers? Oh yeah! Dawn Mission team presentations were streamed lived from Pasadena Convention Center through NASA's Digital Learning Network to Vesta Fiestas everywhere. Dawn's Bob Mase (Project Manager), Chris Russell (Principal Investigator), Carol Raymond (Deputy Principal Investigator), Pablo Gutierrez-Marques (Framing Camera Operations Manager), and Britney Schmidt (Education and Public Outreach Science Team Liaison) were delighted by the enthusiastic reception from the crowd. The presenters didn't disappoint: the story of Dawn unfolded from planning to launch, through trajectory using the ion propulsion system to Vesta in the main asteroid belt, onto orbit capture and instrumentation illustrated by latest Vesta images, captivated the audience.

Across the Nation, Around the World

Searching for Vesta in sky charts
Searching for Vesta in sky charts. Image Credit: McREL

Vesta Fiestas around the world included viewing events at observatories, star parties, streaming video from the flagship event in Pasadena, and hands-on activities for young and old.


  • 110 Vesta Fiestas were recorded.
  • More than 20,000 fiesta goers enjoyed diverse venues ranging from observatories to block parties to museum-sponsored events.
  • Two original songs!
  • One charming poem!
  • One fabulous photo of a Vesta piñata (never to be bashed!)

Overall, Vesta Fiesta was a worldwide success! Stay tuned for another event in 2012 to celebrate Dawn's work at Vesta and herald the commencement of the next leg of the spacecraft's journey to dwarf planet Ceres!