For those raised on Star Wars and Star Trek, the wonder of space travel is not as profound as it was for prior generations. Films like Gravity and The Martian illustrate the perils in a more relatable fashion. But, those earthbound in the Los Angeles area who are interested in learning more about space travel today should venture to the California Science Center for their new Journey to Space exhibition and see the IMAX 3D film with the same name. Both examine manned space travel – the risks, the realities of living in space, and the future plans in a way that would appeal to the average person.
The exhibition was developed by the Science Museum of Minnesota, which debuted the exhibition earlier this year; the California Science Center, which is the home of the retired space shuttle Endeavor; the International Space Station Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and other partner museums. The present Journey to Space exhibit will be in Los Angeles until May 8, 2016. However, some of the displays will eventually be housed in the Science Center’s new air and space wing once completed.
Journey to Space is a highly interactive experience that presents the reality of space life for humans. “The whole purpose of the exhibit is to figure out what to do to stay alive in space,” said Kenneth Phillips, aerospace science curator at the Science Center. “It’s an extremely hostile environment. You could lose the pressure inside your spacecraft. You get radiation and temperature extremes. Once you stay alive, the game isn’t over. How do you stay productive? How do you build a space station?”
One of the most engaging displays is a detailed version of the Destiny Lab, one module of the International Space Station (ISS). A group of visitors will enter the structure and stand on a walkway with railings while the room rotates around them like a big drum for a simulated four-minute ISS journey. The lab was painstakingly recreated from NASA images to replicate details like the hatches that store the experiments to laptops and cables stuck to the walls, and even writing instruments anchored with Velcro so they don’t float freely.
“It is equipped with racks of electronic equipment,” Phillips said. When visitors walk through it or stand and look around, the module is turning around them. As Phillips noted, the result is a “disorienting feeling.”
The exhibit at the California Science Center is loosely based upon the legacy of Apollo missions, the space shuttle, and the current ISS, along with showing the earthbound glimpses into ongoing work at NASA to prepare for future expeditions. The Journey to Space displays look at the dangers of space debris, effects of weightlessness and the latest in space toilets and food, two items that people have been interested in since the first longer space flights. Interactive displays include using joysticks to operate a robotic arm, trying to move objected using a glove inside a vacuum chamber, and a dollhouse version of the ISS.
Some of the displays look at spacesuits for wear inside the spacecraft and for ventures outside. The ones worn outside are described as “spaceships built for one person.” They have to incorporate temperature controls, oxygen intake and purging, communications, and more. One suit arm on display shows the 10 layers of material employed from a cotton lining next to the skin to balloon-like urethane-coated nylon for air pressure and thermal coated insulation layers.
One Journey to Space display shows a compression suit designed to be worn inside the space station. This is one potential solution to the fact that astronauts in a weightless environment for long periods develop painful back problems as their spine lengthens in the environment because of the loss of gravity and bone density in space. The compression suit is one way they are trying to combat the issue.
Earthbound visitors to the Journey to Space exhibit at the California Science Center should also plan on visiting the space shuttle Endeavor. In addition, the Journey to Space 3D film adds greatly to the experience with its views of the shuttle legacy and the plans for a mission to Mars.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Preview of exhibit Oct. 27
California Science Center
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Top photo courtesy of the Science Museum of Minnesota and the California Science Center
Other photos of spacesuit layers and space food by Dyanne Weiss