Our world is often in chaos. What’s up, sometimes appears down. And what’s down sometimes appears to be up. But have you ever imagined what it is like to see it from space or to even trek through our universe, going on a mission exploring new worlds?
Human’s fascination with “space: the final frontier, where no man has gone before” doesn’t get old as we travel through time. Even before Star Trek, the science fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry, made that catchy phrase universally famous, there has always been a group of visionaries bent on making that bold move to becoming astronauts. If that’s you, you can get a glimpse of life on a starship and what it takes to be a real “Starship Officer” right here on earth at the new “Astronaut Exhibit” at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium.
The Astronaut Exhibit was developed in a private site in Australia with NASA assisting in its creation. It’s incredibly sleek and modern, and the Science Center is the fourth venue to host it. They rotate exhibits every four months to keep things fresh and new, and when they saw this exhibit they were excited to show it, as no one in Florida had seen it before.
“The thing I like about it is that most space exhibits are kind of old and outdated,” said Kate Arriza, General Manager for the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium. “This is brand new, as it was created last year. So everything you see here is the latest information and has up to date data, and that is very important to us. As an educational institution, we want to give everyone the best and latest.”
The Astronaut Exhibit is very interactive. Designed for kids in grades 5th – 12th, it guides them through the steps of becoming an astronaut, and the training necessary to complete that. Visitors can have a close-up of the planetary space station, viewing lots of footage of what astronauts are doing there right now. You see their sleeping bags, how they brush their hair, or how they go to the bathroom! Interestingly, is what most kids are curious about.
Astronaut Exhibit photo gallery
Space: the final frontier
Displayed is a mercury capsule, and even though it didn’t fly in space, it could have. NASA developed about twelve capsules for training, and anyone could have gone into space. If you look at this tiny vessel, the first thought may be, “Would you like to go into space in that?” If you touch it, it doesn’t seem that sturdy. Today’s toy transformers feel stronger than that. And according to Arriza, the Center likes to open with that vessel to give people a real feel of what astronauts go into space in.
Part of an astronaut’s training involves tedious exercises, and the first one on this exhibit is a module containing a series of buttons and flashlights, plus 3lbs and 5lbs weights that go on your arms. You are guided to quickly push the buttons, as if you were in space. Astronauts in training use these weights to train their fingers and arms, getting accustomed to the energy needed to execute the simplest motions and jobs like lifting their arms to push a button, which from the module displayed, there are many in a space aircraft. After you do it with the weights, you are asked to take them off and do the same exercise without the weights. Suddenly, you see how much faster you are—almost twice as fast. This is the reason why astronauts do so much underwater training, which is a similar environment to space, where it is harder to move and maneuver things.
Houston, we have a problem…
The next module is designed to showcase the problems that astronauts may face in space. “Who Wants to be an Astronaut?” is set up like a game show, with trivia questions testing you on how well you know the space program. Questions like, “What are the greatest dangers in space?” provide the answers: Water and fire.
Another module tests you on the selection of the perfect team to go onto outer space. This guides you on the kind of personality you have and that of others on your team. It’s all kind synchronistic up there, so for instance, one person is a chemist, the other is botanist, and so they all need to fit in together. “When I took the test, the module let me know that the team that I had chosen in the end would not have been successful in space,” explained Arriza. “I chose all people that were leaders. And it said, you can’t just have all leaders on a team. You have to have people whom you delegate things.” So, this module says a lot about you and the team you need to have to survive in space.
Dressing for Space Travel
To star in an outer space flight, you need to dress the part. Not only for aesthetics, like Captain Kirk and Spock’s polyester suits, but more importantly, for safety reasons. Now, putting on a spacesuit is not as easy as you may think. A teenage girl was spotted trying on one, and she said, “This is huge!” Other kids were parading around the exhibit in their spacesuits, having fun as they discovered what life is like on a starship.
In the next area, there’s a video of a woman astronaut going through the motions of daily life in space. First you see her brushing her teeth, eating, and then sleeping. And all the time, her hair is up in the air, and you can see her stuff flying everywhere.
How do astronauts sleep? Kids like to ask. Well, they have to strap themselves in so they won’t float away. And how do they brush their teeth? That’s a bit trickier. They use a special edible toothpaste because you can’t spit water in space. And the old favorite: the space toilet. How do you go to the bathroom in space? It’s a question you can easily get the answer to by observing the intricacies of the real space toilet on display. Astronauts strap themselves in, and everything is sucked in so nothing flows away. [The rest of the details are best left to people’s imagination.]
There are many cool modules that show how astronauts have to share a common goal. And one of the most fascinating is their private gym. The module is all about the physical, testing what is your strength on earth, and what is your strength in space. Now, keeping up with your planet fitness daily routine in space is more important that you may think. If you don’t work out in space, your bone density will shrink. If you are an astronaut on a space mission, working out is not a choice, but a critical necessity if you want to return to earth at the same height as when you left.
Kid’s favorite part of this exhibit is sitting behind the control seat, and at the Rocket Launch activity they can have a first-hand experience of what it is like to blast off into space. Red alert, arm photon torpedoes… Yes, you can command anything from this chair that looks a bit like Captain Kirk’s. It shakes, it wiggles, it jolts you back, and it all happens really, really fast. Kids love it!
The module that marks the target have people jumping on a matted seat, then landing on a target on the floor. This simulation let’s people see how incredibly important the landing of a craft really is.
Food in Space
The last area of the Astronaut Exhibit is all about food in space. At the start you see a vending machine and all the funny and disastrous consequences when you choose a drink or a potato chip bag that is not appropriately packaged for space.
Next to that is a more serious module that supports the concept of growing crops in space. Everybody knows that plants are important to sustain a healthy life environment here on earth. For the same reason, growing plants is part of space exploration, and part of that is learning how humans can self-sustain by growing plants and vegetables in space. Those who saw The Martian, starring Matt Damon, or Passengers, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, can have sort of an idea, even if it was a fictional account, how astronauts can survive in space while on a mission to colonize a new world.
Overall, the Astronaut Exhibit is a great discovery to be explored.
The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium is running the Astronaut Exhibit until April 22, 2018. Don’t miss this exhibit, an opportunity for your children to experience the physical and mental challenges involved in astronaut training! For more information, visit www.sfsciencecenter.org/astronaut.
Visit the Astronaut Exhibit at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium to discover and experience the challenges and training of astronauts.