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The Great Pumpkin Parachute Drop

November 16, 2009

This post was written by Ross Davis, Education Resources and Volunteer Coordinator for the Museum.

To see some pictures of the aftermath, check out our Flickr Page.

What started out as a nice idea for wholesome family entertainment—“The Great Pumpkin Parachute Drop” at the San Diego Air & Space Museum—ended in a shockingly loud, liquid splat on the afternoon of Saturday, October 31st.

As part of a park-wide Family Day, inspired by our recent acquisition of the limited-run “Snoopy Soars with NASA” exhibit, we paired a “da Vinci style” parachute with a great big pumpkin and thought we’d drop it off the roof to test the whole assembly.

What could possibly go wrong?

But first, we conducted our normally scheduled and well-loved Family Day craft activities in the Education Center. The exhibition-combo theme worked well for this, too—we helped families construct small origami “Great Pumpkins” suspended from Leonardo-inspired paper parachutes. The result was stunningly beautiful—we even used green vine-like twine for the risers—and the visitors were thus stoked for the actual pumpkin drop.

Just before 2pm, Brent Bernasconi, fellow educator, and I climbed to the top of the Museum Rotunda, commanding a matchless view of the park and San Diego, and commenced the gourd-dropping festivities.

By way of experimental control and comparison (yeah, we’re really academically disciplined) we let one pumpkin accelerate to ground level sans parachute. The results were spectacular (remember the wet splat?), and got the crowd stoked for the main event.

When it came time to drop the largest pumpkin and the huge (four feet a side) wood-framed cloth parachute, the countdown was loud and enthusiastic. The actual drop started off perfectly, with the pumpkin going first, and the parachute above—exactly as planned.

A split second later, the pumpkin fell out of its burlap-and-rope cradle—and it, too, plummeted to a gruesome vegetarian doom before the horrified onlookers. The parachute, with no weight to stabilize it, landed on its side and snapped its framework.

The horror. Still, it was fun to see. Science is like that sometimes.

Stay tuned for more events like this during the upcoming year—especially during school breaks and as new exhibits arrive!

You never know what we’ll drop on the public next.

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