Mason and Richard Peck to Talk Learning, Life on Mars at Arizona Science Center

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a NASA scientist, a writer, and a children’s rights advocate walk into the Arizona Science Center. This isn’t a joke, it’s what’s going to happen on Wednesday, May 27.

Mayor Stanton, who has been a staunch supporter of bringing bioscience industry to the metro Phoenix area, will provide a special address at the event. Titled “From Science Fiction To Science Fact,” the evening will feature a conversation with renowned sci-fi author Richard E. Peck and his son, former NASA Chief Technologist Mason Peck. The discussion will be moderated by children’s author and advocate R. Bradley Snyder, who currently serves as executive director for the Dion Initiative For Child Well-Being and Bullying Prevention, a sponsor of the event. Snyder is now Richard Peck's son-in-law, but became familiar with the author as a student at Arizona State University, prior to making the acquaintance of his daughter. 

Richard Peck started reading science fiction works as a child. "I enjoyed the imagination of it," he says, "because I was a little bit of a nerd as a kid — and might still be. It’s literature for people who want to see imagination applied to every day life. Sci-fi creates something new out of the old."

Despite his skill as a writer, Peck never wrote works of this genre until the 1970s, when he was teaching the country's first accredited class in science fiction literature at Temple University. He challenged his students to write their own stories based on a prompt; of the 20 people in the class, only one (in addition to Peck himself) completed the assignment. "I was stuck with a story and didn’t know what to do with it, so I sent it to a magazine and offered to send [the student's] story as well. I had sold magazine articles before, but that was my first fiction. That year I sold my first novel as well. So what it came down to is that there were people who wanted to read the stories that I wanted to tell." Peck has now published 11 books, as well as plays, short stories, two short films, and two network television scripts.

Mason Peck was a teenager in the 1970s, right at the height of his father's career. He currently serves as director of Cornell University's Space Systems Design Studio and is an associate professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the school. Of his son's interest in science, Richard Peck says, "My son is a good example of someone who began a hobby or interest because it was fun, and it developed into a great career. My son was Chief Technologist at NASA, but he might not have ended up there if he hadn’t also been a sci-fi fan."

The Peck family's connection to Snyder inspired them to participate in this moderated conversation. To quote Richard Peck,  "One of the things Brad has been engaged in since he was a teenager is working with homeless kids or kids having problems. I’ve always admired him for what he [does]. I’ve watched him do a number of significant things for young people – establishing a website and phone number for runaways, supporting kids who are otherwise having troubles. Recently he’s been publishing books that are intended to explain adult interests to young people. [Snyder] recognized that children's interests can lead them to significant careers. He’s interested in inspiring kids to follow their hearts, interests, and imagination, and to see where it leads them. If we can make education more interesting to kids, they’ll stay with it." 

The Dion Initiative (which is affiliated with ASU) was founded by local attorney Nicole Stanton, who's married to Mayor Stanton, and named for her late brother, Dion France, who was a victim of bullying as a child. The initiative performs research into how various social and environmental factors impact child safety, wellness, and learning.

“From Science Fiction to Science Fact” will explore the relationship between Richard Peck’s science fiction works of the 1970s and his son’s future career in aerospace engineering. The conversation will also examine how the arts and popular culture can be used to inspire learning in young people. Rumor has it they’ll also touch on the ever-sexy subject of what it would take for humans to inhabit Mars.

Tickets to From Science Fiction to Science Fact event cost $7 and are available at Arizona Science Center's website.

Editor's note: This post hast been edited from its original version.

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Zaida Dedolph
Contact: Zaida Dedolph