“Facing Mars” gives visitors a unique taste of interplanetary travel as it explores the physical, scientific, and psychological challenges of traveling for months to get to the Red Planet. The exhibition, composed of nearly 30 interactive displays, is on loan from the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto. It will remain in downtown Cleveland until Sept. 5.
Among the most popular displays in the exhibit is the Marswalk, in which visitors can strap on a harness and experience the reduced gravity (about a third of Earth’s) that they’d find on Mars.
Another favorite is the Spinning Chair, which reflects the fact that two-thirds of space travelers experience motion sickness. After spinning for 30 seconds in the chair, visitors try to solve simple problems on a console in front of them, and believe me, it’s harder than it sounds.
Visitors can also design and launch mini-rockets, try their hands at space surgery, stir up a Martian dust storm, toss gliders to see how they’d fly on Mars, create a stop-motion movie of a Martian colony, do a simulated fly-over of Mars landing spots, shift their body fluids until their faces turn puffy, and find out what they’d eat on an extended space journey — and how they’d go to the bathroom.
Other exhibits focus on the psychological aspects of deep space travel, showing how emotions can be contagious and gauging how well people might handle extended confinement and isolation, as well as forced togetherness.
Yet “Facing Mars” entails much more than just playing astronaut, according to Dante Centuori, director of creative productions at the science center.
“It really tells the story of the challenges, the human challenges involved with a journey to Mars,” he said. “It’s not just about hardware; the exhibit is more about you. Would you go?
“Each exhibit tries to help get your mind around some of these challenges, whether it’s about being subjected to reduced gravity or the psychological challenge of being isolated. Or just to make you think about how important crew selection is. You know, you’re going to have people in a can together for three years.”
With today’s propulsion technology, and taking advantage of sophisticated orbital mechanics, Mr. Centuori said it would take close to eight months for astronauts to get to Mars. They’d then have to stay there for almost two years before the planets lined up again, then embark on the homeward journey, another six to eight months.
“A three-year trip over millions of miles is no easy feat,” he said. “It’s not something we’ve ever done before, and given that roughly two out of three unmanned missions to Mars have been failures, it’s also not something to take lightly with astronauts’ lives at stake.”
Mr. Centuori said the exhibition is meant to be thought-provoking, and there’s evidence that is it. At its entrance, there’s a large sign that asks visitors, “Would you go to Mars?” They vote yes or no by walking through one of two turnstiles. At the exhibit’s exit, another signs asks, “Would you STILL go to Mars?” and there are two more turnstiles.
At the entrance, the “Yes” votes amounted to about 67 percent, but on the way out, the total was barely above 50 percent. Thousands of people had changed their minds.
“I guess the exhibit made them think about it what it takes and what the risks are,” said Mr. Centuori. “I’m not surprised that the number goes down.”
What about Mr. Centuori? Would HE go to Mars?
“You know what?” he said. “I wouldn’t. I couldn’t imagine being so far from home, being away for three years. If someone said, ‘Would you spend a week in a Space Station?’ I’d say sign me up. But Mars? No way. Too long. I mean, even when you go to the moon, you can get back in a couple of days.
“But it sure is fun to think about it.”
Since last year, the lakefront science center has also been the home of the NASA Glenn Visitor Center, which features flight simulators, interactive displays, and artifacts including the Skylab 3 Command Space Module used in 1973 to take three astronauts to the Space Station and back to Earth.
The Great Lakes Science Center is along the Cleveland lakefront, right next to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Its hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $14.95 for adults and $12.95 for children, which includes all exhibits plus admission to either the NASA Glenn Visitor Center or an Omnimax film. Admission is free on Tuesday for those 18 and younger when accompanied by an adult. Information: 216-694-2000 or greatscience.com.
IF YOU GO
Great Lakes Science Center
When: hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Where: located along the Cleveland lakefront, right next to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Cost: Admission is $14.95 for adults and $12.95 for children, which includes all exhibits plus admission to either the NASA Glenn Visitor Center or an Omnimax film. Admission is free on Tuesday for those 18 and under when accompanied by an adult.