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New Smithsonian Exhibit Shows Life On The Moon

By | June 16, 2008

      A new Smithsonian Institution Air and Space Museum exhibit features a model home – for moon dwellers.

      It also gives people a chance to participate in planning a notional voyage to Mars, and permits Earthlings to see some of the myriad ways the U.S. space program has changed their lives.

      The exhibit in the ground-floor gallery 114, near a V-2 rocket on display, runs until Jan. 11.

      To make a fascinating exhibit even better, NASA on occasion may have an astronaut drop by to chat with visitors.

      Dr. Roger D. Launius, a museum official, conducted a tour of the exhibit for journalists.

      Earlier American accomplishments and feats of derring-do in the glory days of U.S. space exploration, including the Apollo moon missions, abound near the entrance to the exhibition. One display features the immortal words, "The Eagle has landed."

      One exhibit gives visitors a chance to try their luck at plotting an Earth orbit-transit phase-moon orbit sequence. You may get lucky, or you may get an announcement, "There has been a launch error [and] the mission is not complete."

      Another exhibit allows visitors to view themselves in thermal-sensitive infrared, with different colors showing where their bodies are warmest and coolest.

      A few feet away, a semi-circular item permits a visitor to use her finger as a mouse, moving an arrow on a large monitor screen.

      Over in one corner, an exhibit shows how the half-century-old space program has touched every citizen in his or her personal life, from home and office desktop computers, satellite television and other communications devices, and global positioning systems in vehicles.

      But then the tour turns toward the future, taking visitors on a stroll through a conceptual moon pod, a work-and-living area for lunar residents. The roughly 18-feet-wide round room has work stations, bunk beds, a restroom, a galley, and more.

      Emerging from the pod, overhead hangs a one-fourth scale model of the next-generation U.S. spaceship, the Orion space capsule.

      Exhibits are generally at the 7th grade level, interesting for adults but not shutting out children. And that’s no accident.

      This installation is designed to excite people, especially middle and high school students. The "cool factor" of the exhibits is off the charts.

      Behind the fun and games is a very serious aim of this installation: to persuade young people to take the difficult courses — engineering, mathematics, science and more — needed by NASA, space and defense contractors and the Department of Defense.

      A quiet crisis looms for them in the graying of their workforces. Thousands of baby boomers who came out of college to work in the space program in the heady days of the 1960s are poised to retire, and that brain drain will have a devastating effect on all of those organizations unless

      Installations such as this may help to persuade more young people to take the tough courses that will permit them to be a part of the space program, or related fields such as defense.

      NASA and the Smithsonian Institution hope that many visitors, when they emerge from this exhibition, will be go for launch into valuable college degrees and some exciting careers.

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