The Homestead National Monument of America is shaping up to be the hotbed of eclipse-related activities this weekend.
Workers and volunteers at the monument have been working for months to make the two minutes, 34 seconds that the moon will block the sun the best it can be. With thousands of locals and visitors expected to make the trek to the monument in Beatrice this Saturday, Sunday and Monday, that means a lot of hours and a lot of Port-A-Potties.
To be exact, there are 60 of the portable bathrooms placed around the park for the events planned this weekend.
They’re also expecting 25-30 media outlets to be on site, from national to local, consisting of TV, radio and newspapers.
Over the weekend, Homestead National Monument park ranger Susan Cook said they’ll have more than 200 volunteers to make everything run as smoothly as possible as they try to shuffle visitors, media, scientists, musicians, dancers and celebrities into the park.
How many people will be coming is still something of a mystery, but Cook said they’ll be ready for them.
“We have a lot of space,” Cook said. “We don't know what that number is, but we are preparing to fit as many people as we can in the park safely.”
On Friday, the Homestead was having a bit of a dry run for the weekend when thousands of kids from Beatrice and surrounding towns hopped on yellow school buses and headed to the Homestead.
The first of the 1,300 elementary schoolers started arriving just after 8 a.m.—the 900 or so middle and high schoolers arrived at noon—for the festivities the monument had in store for them.
Inside a conference room at the Homestead Monument’s Education Center, a 60-inch diameter globe was lit up by four projectors, showing the cloud data over the entire earth for the past week. A flock of fourth and fifth graders entered the darkened room, mouths wide in amazement.
It’s called Science on a Sphere and if it’s round, it can go up on the sphere. The moon, the sun, any planet you can think of, and it’s all controlled by Maurice Henderson’s tablet. Except for his reenactment of the solar eclipse, in which he used a paper plate as a moon stand-in.
This is the first time Henderson, an outreach engineer with NASA out of Maryland, has been to Nebraska. He said he’s had a warm welcome from almost everyone he’s met.
The students also got a chance to watch The String Beans, a children’s band out of Lincoln, perform in the wooded area next to the education center.
The stage sits next to a sea of chairs, probably close to a couple thousand folding chairs laid out in the shade. It’s just one part of this weekend’s setup, Cook said.
The eclipse-centered weekend will be aimed at educating and entertaining both kids and adults, she said, and Saturday has a decided space theme.
“Saturday is really focused on the NASA employees,” Cook said. “We have hands-on tents, NASA has an expert tent. They'll be shifting in and out of that, so you can see what they study, what they're doing.”
The Homestead will be adding something new every day, she said. On Sunday, the crew of the PBS kids’ show “Ready Jet Go”—about an alien boy named Jet Propulsion—will be performing and putting on science demonstrations for kids.
“We have kind of a really special welcome at 10:30 on Monday morning,” Cook said. “It's kind of the kickoff to the Eclipse because it will lead us up to the time of first contact.”
Bill Nye the Science Guy will be on hand, representing the Planetary Society and participating in seminars, and the kickoff will start with Hannah Huston from Lincoln who was a finalist on “The Voice."
Cook said she hoped the residents of Beatrice see the influx of visitors as a chance to show off and make a good impression.
“We're all a part of history right now,” she said. “As we're moving through it, do we really see how big this is? We know it's big, but I'm not sure we all really understand how big this is going to be for our community going into the future. It's putting us on the map.”
Also, she said, if you’re planning on viewing the eclipse remember that you’ve only got a limited time to do it, so practice putting on and taking off your eclipse glasses.
“People need to practice so you're really ready,” Cook said. “Because it's two minutes and 34 seconds, but make sure you're ready so you don't miss anything. The Bailey's Beads and the diamond ring are only a few seconds, so you've got to be paying attention to them.”