The U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s newest exhibit, Neighborhood Earth, provides guests with a virtual walk through the solar system that all ages can enjoy. The Rocket Center event helped develop this traveling exhibit, which is making its debut in the Rocket City.
To find out how to explore the exhibit, Rocket City Mom recently talked with Rebecca Hitt, the Rocket Center’s Museum Education Assistant Manager. Students would know Rebecca from any of the classes and education programs offered at USSRC throughout the year – she’s a great teacher!
How would you describe this exhibit to someone who hasn’t seen it?
“Neighborhood Earth” has several components, from hands-on activities to models of the spacecraft and probes that have already explored the solar system and ones that are planned for the future, such as NASA’s Space Launch System. There are also kiosks that use holographic technology to explain aspects of the planets and the spacecraft that have traveled to them.
The star of the exhibit it is a big, cinematic feature where you get to stand, virtually, on the surface of the planets. It is an interactive, immersive experience of traveling through the solar system. The center of the space is a large planet that changes as the screens around you show actual images from the surface taken by probes. You can see a lightning storm on Venus and go through the red spot on Jupiter. You can see a sunset on Mars from the Gale Crater. It’s like you are right there!
Tell us more about the kiosks.
There are hands-on, educational stations for each planet with holograms on a screen at the top of each kiosk. We included Pluto because everyone loves Pluto even though it has been demoted to a dwarf planet. The kiosks include touch panels that correspond with the hologram on the screen, and you can explore the spacecraft that would be needed to go to that planet.
What are some things that will appeal to families with smaller children?
There are some fun hands-on aspects to the exhibit, including a table covered in a Mars landscape and 3-D printed pieces you can use to build a Mars colony. You can also build and launch 3-D printed rockets. There’s also a projection screen that works with Xbox Connect to make your movements correspond with the astronaut on the surface of the different planets. Each scene has a funny “wish you were here” postcard message as if you are on a vacation to, say, Mercury.
How was the Rocket Center involved in developing “Neighborhood Earth?”
We supplied the research on the planets and provided the spacecraft models and artifacts along with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. The exhibit was constructed and programmed by the Australian-based Flying Fish and Chronica Creative.
I wrote the education guide for the exhibit to be aligned to K-12 Next Generation Science Standards. It included strategies for teaching in the exhibit as well as follow-up activities and guiding questions that you can use in and out of the classroom.
Is there anything families should do to be able get the most out of “Neighborhood Earth?”
I want them to think about the exploration of the planets and what it would take for them to be there. What would take them off our world and to other locations? It’s always good to expand the scope of children’s minds and open them up to ways of thinking about their home, their city and to the galaxy. Looking at the bigger picture, literally.
That kind of early learning and what we are doing at the Rocket Center is so important to spark that interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). If you get in there with a 2-, 3-, 4-year-old or a 14-year-old and they find it fascinating, you’re on your way to creating a future engineer or scientist.
No matter the age, I think the visuals of this exhibit are going to be fascinating!
“Neighborhood Earth” Exhibit Details
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As a hyper-local website focused on all aspects of parenting in and around Huntsville, AL, and the Tennessee Valley, Rocket City Mom occasionally asks local parents to submit their stories for publication. This is part of our continual effort to represent varied viewpoints and experiences on our site. However, these articles should not be seen as necessarily expressing the views of Rocket City Mom Media Group, LLC.