Mars Borough Awarded $1 Million State Grant to Build NASA Discovery Center

December 9th, 2019

Mayor Hartung

The awarding of a $1 million grant to Mars Borough, Butler County, all began with a New Year’s celebration. In 2014, Mars Mayor Gregg Hartung came up with the idea of having an event tied to New Year’s on the planet Mars, which happens every 22 months, to take advantage of the town’s unique name.

Hartung said there is no other Mars in the U.S. and possibly the world. However, the town’s name has nothing to do with the planet but is the shortening of the founding family’s name of Marshall.

The mayor called NASA to find out when the new year was on Mars. That call started a collaboration that launched the event that attracted 10,000 people in 2015. With that success, NASA said it was on board for 2017, the next new year for Mars (the planet).

As the organizers talked with NASA in 2014, they realized they needed to make their Mars event something different from a “food, music, and fun type of thing,” Hartung said. They decided to play off the education angle because that’s what it will take to get humans to Mars by the 2030s, as planned by NASA.

The most recent project expands on that idea with a permanent Mars Discovery Center highlighting science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) topics with robotics, science labs, and educational exhibit areas. The center is also part of ongoing revitalization of the town of around 1,700 people.

In 2017, Hartung said NASA sent a letter agreeing to collaborate with the borough on the center by providing exhibits, personnel for speaking engagements, and updates on the progress of Mars exploration.

The borough applied for a $2.5 million Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project (RACP) grant in April to build the Mars Discovery Center and was awarded $1 million.

Hartung said they anticipated the borough would not receive the full RACP request, and the $1 million will be used to leverage additional money, including the matching funds.

The borough is near to an agreement on a property that would be home to the center. The timeline for completion of the entire project is three to five years, the mayor said.

Another to-do for the borough is to find a third-party operator that has done this sort of center before.

“We don’t see borough as the operator,” Hartung said and added, “We’re setting things up for the future of the New Year’s event and center” with separate 501(c)(3) designations and volunteer boards."