GREENBELT – Susan Breon has two hats: scientist and musician.
By day, she is a cryogenic engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where she works on what she calls a “small step towards a mission to Mars.” At night, she participates in Goddard’s Music and Drama Club, often known as MAD. She played the keyboard for the club’s spring musical.
“The work here can get very intense,” said Breon, a 30-year NASA veteran. “We did our thermal vacuum tests a few months ago, and it was a 24/7 operation.”
Club members include scientists, engineers, and managers who work for NASA on projects like weather satellites and space telescopes, and they say the club is a creative outlet for them.
“We have more engineers per square foot than any other theater company,” said Randy Barth, who directed the club’s latest musical, “Weird Romance”.
MAD has hosted at least one show a year at Goddard since 1970, of “Oklahoma!” and “The Sound of Music” at the rate of science fiction. Club members say it helps them in their day-to-day work and shows the public another side of scientists at the sprawling flight center in northeast Washington.
Astrophysicist Kim Weaver is the club president. Doing theater helps her connect with people who aren’t scientists, she says.
“When I say I’m an astrophysicist, I usually have a blank stare. So to get [people] to open up and smile, then I say I do theater too, because that’s the part they find cool, ”Weaver said. “You say you’re a scientist, and I think that scares people. They think they can’t talk to you.
She was a student intern when she saw a flyer about the club’s auditions for “Sweet Charity”. Doing the show is what got her to work at Goddard.
“It really helped me improve my chances, even in my career,” Weaver said. “I met more experienced astronomers who later were able to help guide me and guide me in my career path.”
“Weird Romance” combines science and drama.
In the first act, “The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” a corporate mogul creates his own celebrity using a beautiful artificial body controlled by a homeless woman.
The second, “Her Pilgrim Soul”, was adapted from an episode of “Twilight Zone”. In it, a projector shows holographic images of a woman that weren’t programmed into it, to the surprise of the scientists involved.
One of the production’s staging describes a character as having “a smile that could melt frozen methane.”
Breon considered this auspicious, since his job is actually to melt frozen methane.
“We have to do more than smile at him, though,” she joked.