Visitors have a choice in the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science‘s Be The Astronaut exhibit opening Saturday: Land on the moon, Mars or Jupiter.
The exhibit, the first that the museum has offered since revealing its total gut-and-renovation a year ago, combines science and gaming.
It not only allows kids to learn the science that put mankind into space, but also try their hands at leaving the atmosphere, landing on another planet and driving unfamiliar terrain. Parents are allowed to play, too.
Be The Astronaut will open during June 24’s Family Fun Days, which has moved indoors because of the forecast of rain, and end Sept. 11.
The exhibit had been scheduled to be at the museum in summer of 2020, but the museum was closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Executive Director Halsey Spruance, who spent a few minutes at one kiosk trying to land on Mars, said the exhibit emphasizes the museum’s decision to highlight science as well as nature.
“Now we’ve got more to offer,” he said.
Museum’s renovation success
Be the Astronaut also will tie in with an exhibit in the Discovery Gallery near the museum’s entrance entitled Sun, Earth and the Universe, he pointed out.
“It’s fantastic the way it’s working,” Spruance said. “The platform for getting into different subjects rather than just biology are huge. We can talk about chemistry, physics. And it’s not just about the physical attributes of space, but also about how do you get there. So it’s engineering and mathematics. That’s all an expansion of what we’ve done before.”
The museum saw 90,329 visitors in the year from its May 2022, opening, a few hundred over its goal of 90,000. Spruance hopes the new exhibit will keep the momentum going.
Be the Astronaut includes a small play area for kids who are too young to really comprehend the information on panels or really enjoy the screens. They are more likely to appeal to those 6 and up who have a bit of patience and experience with gaming.
Visitors will get a look at the equipment an astronaut wears, including the suit, helmet and boots. While the information panel doesn’t say so, Director of Exhibits Helen Bilinsky believes the suit on display was made by LLG of Dover, which outfitted NASA for decades.
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The exhibit is split into three parts: navigation, the science behind flying into space and learning to put into action what you learned in stations one and two by sitting down and trying your hand at landing.
All three stations include a gaming-type screen that allows you to practice leaving the earth’s atmosphere and more. Short film clips pop up to tell visitors what to do.
It’s not easy-peasy.
Bilinsky, who had practiced until she could leave the atmosphere in one shot, flubbed it three times trying to show the museum staff how it worked. That station also allows people to practice driving on another planet by using arrows.
Spruance — who seems a bit obsessed with Mars — stood for quite a few minutes at the second kiosk. It asks visitors to play a match game with ship components before being allowed to launch, reinforcing what tools the astronaut will need, based on the landing choice.
Once a user finishes the matching, the machine tells them they’re ready to move on to a landing.
Christina Zampini, the museum’s director of community engagement, eagerly jumped behind the landing module’s joystick, particularly interested to see how someone would land on the gas giant Jupiter.
She never got there after rolling her vehicle several times on the dwarf planet Ceres, a space stop between Mars and Jupiter.
“I don’t think scientists typically drift,” one of Zampini’s co-workers teased her as she slid around a corner like a driver in the “Fast & Furious” movies.
In short, in real life, she’d be toast, the lander would be 22nd Century scrap metal and we’d all be subjected to never-ending Congressional hearings.
The game wisely includes autopilot modes that a user may choose instead of piloting tough spots themselves.
The exhibit even tie into breaking news, albeit horrifying news.
One of the themes is safety in space, and Bilinsky pointed out how pressure in space is different from the pressure experienced by the five men who died trying to visit the Titanic.
Water pressure is heavy and crushing, she said.
Pressure in space is the opposite, she said. Instead of imploding, everything oozes out.
Delaware Musuem of Nature and Science
If you’re headed for a visit and can choose your time, Spruance said the busiest times are weekends; any rainy day; any school holiday; and from 9:30 a.m. to about 1 p.m. daily.
The museum is at 4840 Kennett Pike, Wilmington. It’s open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Parking is free. Admission ss $14.50 for ages 3 and up and $4.25 for ages 1 and 2. You get a 5% discount if you pay with cash.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.
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