I wasn't really sure where to put this, but in the end, I thought this would be the best place for it. Half Term Holidays started for the kids yesterday for a week, and given my son is studying space as his main topic (science, history etc.) right now and my daugher is studying heroes, I thought taking them to the National Space Centre in Leicester, England would be great.
Now my expectations were quite low. Having seen the very first space shuttle land in California as a lad, visiting Mission Control in Houston and KSC in Florida, I was not expecting much at all. Boy I was wrong.
Now, what does this have to do with WDW I hear you say? Well, it made me think very much of Epcot. Or at least Epcot Center, what it used to be years ago. We had a huge amount of fun, we learnt things and we were amazed. Hands on exibits, real artefacts, space simulations (yep, even something that was a cross between Mission to Mars at Tomorrowland and Mission Space), space suits, planetariums, talks, walk around characters. It was amazing. It felt like if Disney had done Mission Space properly.
It really made me sad that Disney no longer try. It was very much like how the Living Seas or Wonders of Life used to be, but all about Space - travel, history, big bang, planets, universes, sci fi, recent missions, future missions. And what was really amazing was how they showed the history not just of NASA (as the US sites do, as to be expected), but also the work of the cosmonauts, European space agency and some of the asian work. As well as how international science is, and the amazing work at CERN too. It was humbling and inspiring, and fun. Just like Tomorrowland at DL made me feel as a kid and Epcot too.
I am really sad those days are gone with Disney, but at least others are stepping up. and at $19 for an AP, we will be back!
Here are some pics with captions if you are interested:http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2 ... dca18e26d2
they even have British Sci Fi weekends - the cast of Dr Who and Gerry Anderson are going to be there this year where they will feature Sting Ray, Thunderbirds, Terrahawks, Blake 7, Dr Who and Red Dwarf.
It is the event in May I am really looking forward to, Star Wars Weekend. I know WDW has one, but I didn't know we had such things in Europe!
Anyway, back to the facts. The reality is Mission Space could have been like this, in fact I will describe more today if you like. I was amazed as they had one section that was like MS. The centre is funded and managed by Leicester University and the Leicestershire County Council with Lottery Grants, donations and sponsorship by the likes of British Telecom and British Aerospace.
The centre was all undercover and divided into different zones - The Space Race, Into Space, Exploring the Universe, The Planets, Orbiting Earth, Space Now, Mars Yard, Tranquility Base and the Space Theatre.
The Space Race is in a tower that houses two rocket ships. On the bottom level is the start of the ideas for space travel - Jules Verne and H G Wells including a turn of the 20th Century themed cinema showing Mouliere's From the Earth to the Moon (watching this I really miss the original version of Space Mountain in Paris), the first rockets in the napoleaonics, V2 Rocket, the post war experiments in the UK, Russia and US. It includes a space race rocket launch with Russia on one side and the US on the other - on a screen it tells you the payload (a chimp, Neil Armstrong, or empty for the US; Laika the dog, Yuri Gregarin, or empty) and you choose the rocket and fuel after reading some stats on them. Then the two rockets either fires up using pressurised water or fizzles out (then on the screen it shows the successful launch or the resulting explosions and then talks a little about the dangers of the science.
This section also talks a little about the different Nazi officers that went to the US or Russia and worked on their programmes, as well as the prejudices they faced (which I think is a facinating aspect).
The second level deals with Leaving Earth 1942 - 1962. This one is very interesting as the Russians had early advantage, this floor focuses on their part of the story including a facinating multi media presentation showing the race and motivation for Russia (fear the Americans might attack from space, as well as what the common Russian made of the Cosmonauts). It also talks about why dogs were used by the Russians and chimps by the US (as well as how the Russians did feel bad for killing the stray dogs as they had no way to get them back, what was interesting is NASA scientists never touched on the same issue). The god suit was interesting to see.
They had a mock up of the cosmonaut cockpit Yuri Gregarin sat in (did you know he never told his wife where he was going when he went into space? He didn't want to worry her. There was only a 50% chance of success and they pulled the programme forward to try to beat America into space. Apparently he was a very humble man.) and a mock up of the Russian Mission control where you verbalise the instructions for the person in the cockpit to follow. Success and the green light goes on. Failure, and red lights flash and the cockpit fills with theatrical smoke! Cool.
The top level overlooks the top of the rockets and features 1962-1975 and focuses on the US. There is the moon rock, a computer simulation where you have to pilot the Eagle and land it on the moon (I loved this), a model of the Eagle that is automated to show how it took off from the moon to rejoin the ship Michael Collins sat in to return home, the astronaut suit to pose in, and a 1969 living room decorated as popular at the time where the TV shows the Apollo landing and the "wireless" (radio) plays the coverage. Very cool.
Into Space covers the life of an Astornaut, including games that are similar to the tasks they do in training, a simulated shuttle launch (a little like the old Mission to Mars attraction) and various aspects such as the ISS module, toileting, eating, bathing, space experiments (they have hydroponics and fish tanks etc.). Very cool.
Exploring the Universe is very interesting too. The have the story of the big bang, including an airhockey type table to show what may have happened and talks about the experiment in CERN with the proton collider. There is a station where it takes your photo and then alows you to magnify by the power of 10, 25 times - showing you how small we really are and how massive the universe really is - it shows us, then the planet, then the gallaxy, going past Alpha Centari, multiple galaxies, the edge of the known universe.
There is a section on the end of the Universe, where they have interviewed kids, scientists, priests, Imams, Rabbis etc. to record what they think will happen and when.
There is a section on stars and gas giants, birth of stars, death of stars and supernova, and then a cool little thing on Black Holes - it is a slide that goes into it, then gets dak and narrows and then opens again. The kids wanted to go through the Black Hole again and again.
The UNiverse also dealt with the ideas of aliens and UFO's and included footage of deep sea creatures to show that it is unlikely (though possible) that aliens would be huminoid. It talks about sci fi views of aliens where scientists rate the probability based on physics and biology. Then you can take a picture of your face, put in details of the part of the universe you are going to be from etc. It creates something that is likely to be what a creature would look like.
Also there are some very cool goggle points that shows you what different rays look like in the spectrum and how telescopes use different rays to look for different data in the gallery, the reason for international commissioning of telescopes in Chile, Hawaii and outer space. There is also a cool 3d fibre optic display of the constellations.
The Planets was very cool too. It was a gallery that explored from Mercury through to Pluto and the search for Planet X. For each planet there are detailed descriptions of why they were named as they were, what the ancients thought they were, knowledge on the temps, gravity etc. Including showing a crushed space ships the Russians sent to Venus, a War of the World Marsian, the Mars lander etc. etc.
It then finishes with the obligatory scale where you can see what you weigh on different planets etc. They then have a section on comets and meteors with the history of where they were found and what research impact has been.
Orbiting Earth is the area all about satelites, the discovery of the Clark Belt, the use of satelites for military and civilian capabilities as well as the impace of the atmousphere on weather, the impace of pollution and the Ozone layer, and space trash. Here you see replicas of key satelites, learn about their launch missions and design and build your own. Sadly we didn't have enough time in here nor Space Now as we did not want to miss out on Tranquility Base, so we prioritised that.
Space Now talks about current missions and experiments and the latest findings. In here is a little lecture theatre where they often have talks. Yesterday was on the Science of the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, exploring where some of the ideas may have come from, what is plausible and what is not. On thursday there will be a debate on conspiracy theories and science including was Apollo 11 really a hoax? UFO cover ups? Why do conspiracy theories even exist? Sounds interesting.
The Mars Yard is like it is a park on Mars, a recreation of the planet for you to walk around (sadly we missed this).
Tranquilty Base is cool. It is a series of stations where you scan your ticket and then participate in a number of training missions - jumping on the moon, a simulation where life support goes down and you have to try to work as a team to manage air, water and food during the lunar night with a system failure, use of the space mining equipment for soil sampling, the hover chair if used for space walks, and blood pressure tests. The highlight is a 3D simulation of a launch and mission, it is very similar to Mission Space Green (that is not the killing version, is it?) with better visuals. At the end, real ESA staff, via a video recording, assess your ability - need more training, you are developing well, sign up now. It was very cool.
Space Theatre is in the middle of the complex. Now this was cool. It is a planetarium, but currently they are running a film narrated by David Tennant (of Dr Who fame) that is awesome! It talks about us as astronomers. Why are people facinated with the skies, what has it meant for astrology, romantics, scientist and the future. It takes us through how the skies have changed, how we have had to change the way we explore it and why, current and future missions, and what we can do to get more involved. It was awe inspiring, entertaining, informative, and really wanted us to learn more and take action. It had the theme about how the world has united in research and how most people in the industry see themselves united as citizens of the world. It showed how inspiration for the development of knowledge can bring us together. And yes, my eyes misted a little. I was so inspired to learn more, and my kids were full of questions.
It felt like the Disney experience I used to know and love, and long to return. But in a post 9/11 world where money is tight, people are selfish and Disney prefer to shove toons, I may have found a new interest (or in fact, rekindled an old one).
Now, if only more fans would vocalise and try to get Disney to change their direction again, that would be awesome, as I would love to see what Disney could come up with. But in the interim, there is hope elsewhere.http://www.spacecentre.co.uk/Page.aspx/1/HOME/