Pinhead: Punk Science Launches with Rocket Science

Pinhead: Punk Science Launches with Rocket Science

If the red rock canyons of the Telluride region remind you of a Martian landscape, come meet a man whose lifelong work as a rocket scientist is one of the reasons we’re so familiar with the crags and cracks of that dusty, red planet.

Rocket man Kevin McNeill with Mars globe.

Rocket man Kevin McNeill with Mars globe.

Tuesday, June 30 the Pinhead Institute kicks off its annual summer Punk Science lecture series with a light-hearted, fun presentation on the exploration of Mars designed to be accessible to kids of all ages. The talk takes place on the Wilkinson Public Library Plaza, 5:15 – 6:00 p.m.

While the Punk Science series is a longtime summer staple in Telluride, this summer, the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education-focused non-profit organization is expanding its regional reach by launching the program outside its immediate service area in Cortez at the Cortez Cultural Center.

“Pinhead is expanding the Punk Science program to Cortez because we are lucky enough to attract scientists who want to bring their stories not only to the crowds in Telluride, but also to the fine students of the Four Corners area who also want to enjoy hands-on, inspiring presentations about fun science,” said Pinhead Institute executive director Sarah Holbrooke.

The first in a series of six lectures running Tuesday evenings from June 30 through August 4, designed to get kids excited about science, features a 45-minute, interactive talk by retired scientist Kevin McNeill.

McNeill’s career developing spacecraft for NASA culminated as program manager for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that launched in 2005, and whose images were instrumental in determining the landing sites for the Mars Phoenix mission and for the Curiosity Rover.

“We’re bringing everyone from a rocket scientist talking about a mission to Mars, to a famous food blogger who is going to whip up some tasty treats while keeping the science real,” said Holbrooke.

And if the sheer joy of learning something new isn’t enough to get kids out to Punk Science, Pinhead is sweetening the deal with a contest open kids with perfect attendance.

“We are giving a brand new GoPro camera to the kid who attends every talk in the series and gives the best answers on a final quiz about the different topics,” Holbrooke added.

For more information about this event or Pinhead Institute programs please visit here or call 970-369-5190.

About Kevin L. McNeill:

Kevin  McNeill graduated from the University of Colorado in 1974 with a degree in math and a minor in computer science.  After graduation, he spent five years in Seattle WA. working at Boeing and Honeywell.

Kevin returned to Colorado in 1979 to spend 28 years at Martin Marietta/Lockheed Martin, where over 25 years were spent developing spacecraft for NASA missions, including missions to Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Comets, and L1 (the point between the Earth and Sun where the gravitational attraction from each is equal).

Kevin’s final position at Marietta/Lockheed was program manager for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Launched in 2005,  the vehicle is still orbiting Mars and returning exceptional science from six different instruments, as well as all of the Curiosity Rover’s science data. The returned images from MRO were instrumental in determining the landing sites for the Mars Phoenix mission and for the Curiosity Rover.

Following his retirement at the end of 2007, McNeill moved with his wife to Ridgway and has participated on the Board of Directors for the Second Chance Humane Society in Ridgway and the Mount Sneffels Education Foundation.

McNeill has shared his experience with students at many local area schools, the University of Colorado, the Air Force Academy, and at schools in Mexico, as well as at various organizations around Colorado and neighboring states.

About Pinhead:

The Pinhead Institute is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and Smithsonian Affiliate based in Telluride, Colorado that educates and inspires children and adults in the greater Telluride region about the wonders of science and technology through engaging programs, direct interaction with scientists, and unique research-centered internship experiences.

To learn more: visit or call 970-369-5190.

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