Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2008

The 2008 Folklife Festival covered Bhutan, NASA, and Texas. (Yeah, yeah, I know, NASA.) Time constraints caused us to miss the Texas part — in violation of that popular Southern precept, “Don’t miss with Texas” — but we got a lot out of Bhutan and NASA.


My first impression of Bhutan was “Wow, there sure is a lot of cheese and chili in their food,” while looking at the Bhutanese prepared by Indique Heights. We didn’t try the ema dhatsi, having just had lunch, but we did get some dumplings called momos, and helped a homeless old lady rooting through the trash get some for herself, too.

There were also the requisite arts and crafts — weaving, painting, calligraphy, blacksmithing, storytelling, cooking, pottery — and Bhutanese people in native garb wandering amongst the tourists, posing for photos and answering questions.

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NASA anticipated questions concerning its participation in an event normally more geared toward traditional and native arts and culture with “Why is NASA at the Folklife Festival?” signs (PDF). It was more of a public relations venue for their 50th Anniversary, but amidst all the spaceflight technology there were interspersed personal touches and bits of history.

My favorite part of the whole experience was speaking with Ron Woods (aka “Dr. Space”), a NASA technician who has worked in the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, doing spacesuit maintenance and flight equipment processing. This was a guy who had handled stuff worn by astronauts returning from the moon, sat with Deke Slayton in Mission Control (and later helped suit up Slayton for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project), and is the go-to guy for anything to do with Space Shuttle Orbiter hardware. It was great fun talking shop with him about spaceflight technology and history, and of course trying on parts of the Apollo spacesuit test article he had with him. Now that’s NASA folklife.

Trying on an Apollo Spacesuit Glove

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We were only able to go for an afternoon last week, and were unable to revisit yesterday due to the Fourth of July crowds, but what we saw was enough for a memorable experience. Full photoset from the 2008 Folklife Festival here.