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On the runway

Jeffrey Beswick • May 5, 2018 at 4:00 PM

Editor’s Note: This is the first in what will be a regular column in the Tribune featuring the happenings at Grand Haven’s airport. 

The Grand Haven Memorial Airpark has been part of the community for nearly 70 years, having first opened in 1949.

But if you don't fly an airplane or visit the airport, located at 16446 Comstock St., you wouldn't know the stories of some of the interesting people and airplanes which regularly visit our airport. This spring and summer, we hope to acquaint you with some of these stories in the Tribune.

On April 22, one of the first sunny and warm Sundays of the year, Dr. Nilton Renno, a professor of engineering and astrobiology at the University of Michigan, flew to the Grand Haven airport from his home in Ann Arbor. He arrived in a beautiful 2005 Diamond DA40, a single-engine, four-place aircraft, known for its excellent visibility and performance. During the spring and summer, Renno and his wife regularly fly to Grand Haven and other communities along Lake Michigan to enjoy the beaches and waterfront activities.

On this particular visit, Renno arrived solo. He rode his fold-up bike to the beach, and enjoyed a Sunday afternoon watching and practicing kitesurfing in Grand Haven. Like many Grand Haven visitors, Renno is smitten with our lakefront and its water.

But Renno's interest in water goes far beyond Lake Michigan. You wouldn't know it from the picture, but he has spent lots of time thinking about water — not earthly water, but Martian water. Specifically, Renno is a researcher who has studied the atmosphere of Mars, and has concluded that liquid water, and perhaps microbial life, may exist on Mars.

As reported in the New York Times, by recreating Martian conditions in his laboratory, Renno has demonstrated that globules appearing in pictures taken by the Mars lander Phoenix could be water, and that small amounts of liquid water could be forming on Mars today. In his lab, he has shown that certain salts on Mars melt ice within minutes at minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit, conditions found by the Mars lander.

"When we find liquid water, we find microbial life," Renno observes.

The Grand Haven airport is open daily to the public, and community members are free to watch airplane traffic come and go from the airport building or from the deck facing the runways. If you have questions about the airport, or want to be better informed about its visitors, events and activities, you can "Like" the Grand Haven Memorial Airport's Facebook page, or call airport manager Earle Bares at 616-842-4430.

Visiting your local airport or its Facebook page is a great way to learn about local aviation, and if you happen to run into Dr. Renno, you might also learn about Martian water and life on other planets.

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