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Mike’s Maze organizers celebrate Voyager’s 40th anniversary in D.C.

  • A poster from NASA for the Voyager Mission's 40th anniversary. NASA—

  • Mike’s Maze designer Jess Wissemann is shown with Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist, at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, Tuesday. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/JESS WISSEMANN

  • Mike's Maze in Sunderland this year was Inspired by the 40th anniversary of the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft. It earned designer Jess Wisseman an invitation to the anniversary celebration in Washington. Contributed Photo



Recorder Staff
Friday, September 08, 2017

SUNDERLAND — NASA liked Mike’s Maze’s space-themed design so much this year that those behind it were invited to celebrate the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts’ 40th anniversary in Washington, D.C.

“We had folks who’ve participated in the Voyager Program, some of whom have been there since the beginning,” said Matt Shindell, curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, where the celebration took place Tuesday.

Jess Wissemann, the Sunderland maze’s designer, accepted the honor on behalf of Warner Farm, which hosts the maze each year. She streamed the event live on Facebook. VIPs were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum and a question-and-answer meeting with space scientists. The maze has had many interesting designs over the years. This year featured “Greetings from Earth, the pale blue dot,” a message for extraterrestrial life written in 8 acres of corn.

Forty years into its mission, Voyager 1 is 13 billion miles from earth. Voyager 2, which launched a few years later in the early 1980s, isn’t far behind. Their mission is ongoing, having explored Uranus and Neptune, and passed into interstellar space. They continue to relay important scientific data back to Earth.

The Voyagers’ mission “is very active. My understanding is that they’re collecting data every day on a regular basis,” Shindell said.

A few notable speakers at Tuesday’s event were Thomas Zurbechen from NASA headquarters; Ed Stone, who calculated orbits to sling Voyager spacecrafts around planets; and Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Researchers currently working on the project also spoke.

Back home

Wissemann’s return from the nation’s capital to the South Main Street farm coincides with this weekend’s maze opening. And when visitors first enter the cornstalks Saturday, they’ll be entering an outdoor classroom.

“This experience really drives home the reasons why we do Mike’s Maze. It’s not just a corn maze. It’s about finding fun, whimsical, creative ways to teach people incredible things,” Wissemann said. “There are so many unique ways to learn. To me, it’s really important to find an angle to learn about something that draws me in. That’s what the maze represents. It’s a really cool way to learn planetary exploration, and the search for life.”

This year, maze-goers can try to answer space-inspired quizzes and search for habitable planets among the cornrows. There’s also a jump pad, a few large slides, pedal carts, potato cannons and snacks available for purchase. Different this year, there will be no “Mike’s at Night.” But there might be a stargazing party at some point in the season.

Wissemann was selected to attend the Voyager Mission’s anniversary event because educational opportunities like those at Warner Farm are key in “preparing the next generation” of space explorers, Shindell said.

Mike’s Maze, 23 South Main St. near the town’s center, is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., beginning Saturday. The last day is Nov. 5. The maze will also be open on Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 9. General admission is $15, with reduced rates for students, seniors and children. Children under 4 are free. For more information, visit mikesmaze.com.