Out of This World: Mission Mars Now Open at Space Center Houston

February 16, 2017

...Now anyone can get as close to Mars as any human will, any time soon, by visiting [Space Center Houston]. - Ars Technica

The “next big thing” has just opened at Space Center Houston. The spectacular new Mission Mars exhibit showcases an immersive experience about the red planet and offers an opportunity to peer inside an Orion spacecraft research model, stand close to a giant model rocket and walk on a virtual Mars environment.

Space Center Houston has enjoyed a spate of recent successes. Independence Plaza, which opened in January 2016, helped the center reach a record annual attendance of over one million visitors and captured two Brass Ring Awards at the recent International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo. JRA provided completing planning, design and project management for Independence Plaza.

This new multi-million-dollar Mission Mars interactive exhibit, designed with input from NASA experts, opens as the nonprofit also kicks off its 25th anniversary year. JRA has again provided planning, design and project management.

“This new major exhibit will inspire the next generation of explorers who could one day walk on Mars,” said William T. Harris, president and CEO of the science and space learning center. “Visitors will explore what it takes to travel to Mars, the hardware that will get us to the fourth planet in our solar system and how humans may live and conduct research on the red planet in future decades.”

Space Center Houston worked closely with NASA in the development of Mission Mars. A stunning 4K technology video shows a virtual Mars landscape with rovers exploring the planet, a future rocket launching from Earth and heading for Mars and future astronauts landing. The exhibit puts visitors in the astronaut’s seat of an Orion simulator and allows them to record their own historic messages as they take their first steps on Mars. A collection of three rare Mars meteorites is on display inside the exhibit for a limited time, plus there is a special Mars rock visitors can touch. There are only 60,000 known meteorites on Earth, fewer than 150 are from Mars and most of those are held in private collections.

The future-looking exhibit takes visitors to a Mars landscape and features a look at how Mars and Martians have been illustrated in pop culture; the wealth of potential scientific discoveries to uncover on Mars; the innovation needed to build the most advanced spacecraft; and what returning to earth from deep space involves. Understanding the evolution and formation of Mars is the first step of the journey in the new exhibit. The physical terrain is explored through virtual landscapes provided from an orbiting satellite and surface rovers. The experience allows visitors to leave their footprints on three different types of Mars surfaces, study Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system, and seek evidence of water and water erosion as keys to finding evidence of possible life on Mars.

Visitors are able to peer inside a full-size Orion research model used by engineers from NASA Johnson Space Center and Lockheed Martin. The exhibit includes a magnificent 45-foot 1/8th scale model of the Space Launch System, which will be the most advanced and powerful deep space rocket ever produced. The SLS will use four RS-25 engines to help propel astronauts further into space than any rocket in history. Visitors can walk around one of these engines in the display. Touch-screen activities provide an opportunity to explore Mars, suit up an astronaut and pack for the long trip. Astronauts will face a unique set of challenges to sustain life and conduct experiments deep in the solar system. The exhibit shows how resources will be conserved and what techniques will be used to grow fresh food to sustain astronauts and reduce payload.

NASA’s Office of Education provided a grant through the Competitive Program for Museums, Science Centers, Planetariums and NASA Visitor Centers. These grants are designed to create interactive exhibits to engage the public, students and teachers in NASA-themed science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Lockheed Martin provided the Orion capsule research model, along with financial support for the exhibit construction. Space Center Houston is holding a jubilee celebration all year to honor its 25th anniversary on Oct. 16. The activities include the debut of several new exhibits, special events and a thought-leader speaker series.

For more information on Space Center Houston, please visit www.spacecenter.org. Congratulations to the entire Mission Mars team!

Tags: Project Spotlight

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