WASHINGTON - Call it a star party with real star power.
The White House set up 20 telescopes, an inflatable dome with a three-dimensional video tour of the universe, and displays of moon rocks and meteorites as President Obama was hosting a South Lawn star party for about 150 middle schoolers last evening.
It was a nearly cloudless night ideally suited for looking into the cosmos - if only the city lights were not around to obscure the best views.
And if the moon, Jupiter, stars, and the entire universe were not enough, the party also was to include the president, his family, two pioneering astronauts, and science teachers dressed up as Isaac Newton and Galileo.
The White House star party - which may be a first for the president’s home, according to US Naval Observatory spokesman Geoff Chester - is part of a worldwide emphasis on astronomy. This year marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first observations of Jupiter and its moons with a telescope, and has been designated the International Year of Astronomy. People around the world are being encouraged to look at Jupiter and the moon this month. And NASA is purposely crashing a probe into the moon, shown live on the Internet tomorrow morning.
Obama and his mother moved from Hawaii to Jakarta, Indonesia, when he was 6. They left to return to the United States when he was 10.
In announcing Obama’s Asian itinerary yesterday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono talked about a presidential visit to the world’s most populous Muslim nation during a brief meeting at last month’s Group of 20 industrial and developing nations in Pittsburgh.
“They agreed on the importance of having a visit that would showcase the importance of growing US-Indonesian bilateral relations,’’ Gibbs said.
In a speech in last November, Yudhoyono advocated a “21st-century strategic partnership’’ between the two countries.
During Obama’s coming trip, the two presidents probably will meet in Singapore, Obama’s second stop.
Gibbs said the presidential tour was “to strengthen our cooperation with this vital part of the world on a range of issues of mutual interest.’’
Gibbs said Obama’s first stop will be in Japan Nov. 12-13, where he will have two meetings with new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Gibbs said the visit with “this key ally’’ would cover economic, security, and other issues.
After Tokyo, Obama flies to Singapore to attend the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting Nov. 13-15, a major forum for economies around the Pacific Rim. In Singapore, he also will become the first US president to sit in on the annual meeting of leaders of ASEAN, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
From Singapore, Obama will fly to China, where he will visit both Beijing and Shanghai on Nov. 15-18. While in China, Obama and President Hu Jintao will hold their third meeting to discuss regional and world issues including security, nuclear nonproliferation, energy and climate change.
Obama’s final stop will be in South Korea Nov. 18-19. There he and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will have their third face-to-face meeting. North Korea will be among the items on their agenda, Gibbs said.
Awarding the National Medal of Science and the Medal of Technology and Innovation, Obama said the United States must continue to invest in “the next generation of discoveries and the next generation of discoverers.’’ Repeating his pledge to put thousands more students in college classrooms, he committed to spending 3 percent of the gross domestic product to educate future scientists and researchers.
With the US facing economic and security challenges, Obama said the recipients of the nation’s highest research honor are reminders that the United States can pull itself out of an economic recession that has defined his first year of his presidency.