Mission Accomplished: Independence Plaza Takes Flight at Space Center Houston

January 29, 2016

The nonprofit Space Center Houston opened the new international landmark Independence Plaza on Jan. 23. It is the world’s only shuttle replica mounted on a shuttle carrier aircraft and the only place where the public is able to enter both. All photos courtesy Space Center Houston.

The nonprofit Space Center Houston opened the new international landmark Independence Plaza on Jan. 23. It is the world’s only shuttle replica mounted on a shuttle carrier aircraft and the only place where the public is able to enter both. All photos courtesy Space Center Houston.

"The exhibits inside the shuttle carrier shine...for this pair of space nerds, all the exhibits appeared well done." - Ars Technica

"Enormous shuttle carrier artifact inspires wonder" - Space.com

"Someone has wisely decided to put [a shuttle carrier] in a museum." - CNN

"New Space Center exhibit revives interest in shuttle program" - Houston Chronicle

With fireworks, astronauts and an incredible interactive experience inside a one-of-a-kind exhibit, Space Center Houston launched its new Independence Plaza multi-exhibit complex this past Saturday. As the Official Visitor Center of NASA Johnson Space Center and the only Smithsonian Affiliate in the region, Space Center Houston welcomes nearly one million visitors annually, making it the No. 1 Houston attraction for international visitors. A $14 million attraction, Independence Plaza presented by Boeing is Space Center Houston’s largest project since its original opening in 1992 – a milestone worthy of celebration.

Opening Day: Mission Accomplished

“It was an unforgettable day for the world and our center,” said Richard E. Allen Jr., president and CEO of the educationally focused nonprofit museum, Space Center Houston. “Visitors celebrated the historic day and the launch of the world-class exhibit symbolizing one of America’s greatest accomplishments in space exploration.”

Years in the making, the extraordinary day themed “Mission Accomplished” welcomed visitors from all over the world to be a part of the historic opening. The eight-story-tall multiple-exhibit complex features the first shuttle carrier aircraft NASA 905 and the high-fidelity shuttle replica Independence.

The day kicked off with an exciting opening ceremony set around the magnificent new exhibit complex and a T-10 countdown to celebrate the monumental day. Visitors heard from NASA Johnson Space Center Director and astronaut Dr. Ellen Ochoa, who was integral in obtaining the extraordinary vehicles featured in the international landmark. Laura Husband, daughter of the late astronaut Col. Rick Husband, sang the National Anthem while RE/MAX skydivers landed at the event and the U.S. Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard presented the colors.

Space Center Houston President and CEO Richard Allen told the crowd about the ambitious project and why bringing such a grand exhibit to life was important to the nonprofit. U.S. Rep. Brian Babin joined the ceremony and presented Space Center Houston with a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol. John Elbon, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space Exploration, discussed the importance of Independence Plaza and the significance of the shuttle carrier aircraft program to the Space Shuttle Program.

The excitement filled the air when visitors took their first steps inside the exhibit complex and entered both the shuttle carrier aircraft NASA 905 and the high-fidelity shuttle replica Independence.

Astronaut Anne McClain poses with a future flyer.

The action continued throughout the day with activities for the whole family. Visitors watched a space adventure during a special viewing of the new animated movie “Capture the Flag;” participated in interactive Pop-Up Science Labs; and had fun with hands-on space-related educational activities. People of all generations enjoyed a special opportunity to have Lunch with an Astronaut and meet veteran astronauts Jerry Ross and Ken Cameron. Visitors took home the ultimate souvenir during astronaut autograph signings with Anne McClain, Ken Cameron and Jerry Ross, who also signed copies of his book “Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA Record-Setting Frequent Flyer.”

During three panel discussions, visitors gathered to hear about the rich history of the shuttle program and the exciting future of aerospace from the pioneers of human space exploration. Among the panelists were astronauts Jerry Ross, Dr. Jan Davis and Ken Cameron; shuttle carrier aircraft pilot Frank Marlow; Tony Antonelli, Lockheed Martin; Mark Mulqueen, Boeing; astronaut Brian Duffy, Orbital ATK; Chris Sanders, Aerojet Rocketdyne; George Nield, Federal Aviation Administration; Peter McGrath, Boeing; Jeff Siders, OrbitalATK; and Benji Reed, SpaceX.

The Journey

Unlike anything else in the world, Independence Plaza immerses visitors in the science and history of the shuttle era with hands-on exhibit displays inside an unprecedented interactive experience. It honors those who designed, built and flew in America’s Space Shuttle Program by recounting stories from astronauts, engineers and pilots. Visitors learn about the key role NASA Johnson Space Center played in the shuttle’s development and see firsthand the future of space exploration through the interactive multi-media educational displays.

A six-story tower takes guests to the start of their journey, as they enter the flight deck of space shuttle Independence via a timed ticketing system. Here they learn how the astronauts piloted an orbiter through its various missions. On the shuttle’s mid-deck one floor below, guests see an actual artifact from a satellite rescue mission.

Visitors, Odel Thomas (Houston, Texas) and Gayland Garcia (Amityville, New York) look through the airlock from the mid-deck of the shuttle replica Independence which is part of the nonprofit Space Center Houston’s newest exhibit, Independence Plaza. See where a shuttle would dock with the International Space Station and learn about the legacy of the Space Shuttle Program.

The Exhibits

Guests can tour the inside of the massive shuttle carrier aircraft NASA 905. The exhibits inside walk guests through the Space Shuttle Program and the history of the shuttle carrier aircraft project including NASA 905s history.

Descending further, they reach the original shuttle carrier aircraft NASA 905, which offers six exhibits on the challenges of carrying a shuttle aircraft and the innovators who tackled those obstacles head on. The first exhibit illustrates NASA’s role in the shuttle’s design process, offering guests the chance to touch a piece of shuttle tile. The next exhibit chronicles the birth of the shuttle carrier aircraft and the innovations of carrier developer, John Kiker. Visitors can view a model Kiker built to convince NASA that mounting a shuttle on an aircraft could work.

Not only can guests see Space Center Houston’s newest international landmark, they can also witness a prime example of NASA’s sense of humor. On the portion of the shuttle carrier aircraft that connects to space shuttles, guests will see a message printed in small blue and red lettering: “Attach orbiter here. Note: Black side down.”

The third area of the plane will tell the story of how the Boeing 747 was retrofitted to mate with the shuttle. Guests will be able to do their own stress tests to see which materials can best serve to support the weight as designed. The story then follows into the fourth exhibit area, as visitors learn about the carrier’s first flight test. They can even practice mating and detaching the shuttle and the carrier via an interactive display.

Guests interact with one of seven hands-on exhibits inside the historic shuttle carrier aircraft (SCA) NASA 905. This exhibit demonstrates the challenges NASA overcame to get the SCA and shuttles off the ground by allowing guests to practice mating and de-mating the two in a scale model.

Moving onto the next area, guests enjoy a “by the numbers” film celebrating the notable achievements of the shuttle program as well as a reflective space that honors the crewmembers of Challenger and Columbia. Visitors end their journey with an exhibit on the past, present and future innovations of NASA Johnson Space Center and the various careers and disciplines fueling that innovation.

JRA provided complete planning, design and project management for Independence Plaza and felt privileged to participate on such an historic, “only here” project: "It was both an honor and a thrill to have the opportunity to work with the team at Space Center Houston to help realize Independence Plaza,” said JRA Creative Director Randy Vuksta. “Presenting these artifacts to the public helps to heighten the awareness of what is being accomplished in space exploration right now!"

Check out our Twitter and Facebook pages throughout the week for additional photos from the Grand Opening, and congratulations to the entire team at Space Center Houston.


Tags: Project Spotlight

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Industry Leaders Gather in St. Louis for the Grand Hall Experience

January 20, 2016

Last week, over 115 industry leaders from around the country gathered for the Themed Entertainment Association's Grand Hall Experience Mixer at St. Louis Union Station. JRA was a proud sponsor of the event and enjoyed introducing TEA members to this award-winning project.

Grand Hall Mixer Sponsors - Back row from left: Dan Moalli of Technomedia, Shawn McCoy of JRA, Larry Howard of CHRISTIE, Steve Birket (President of the TEA), Steve O'Loughlin of Lodging Hospitality Management, and Al Cross of PGAV Destinations. Front row from left: Heather Brinkley-Lodispoto of Technomedia, Tammie Richards (TEA Event Coordinator), and Jennie Nevin (TEA COO). Photo courtesy Martin Palicki for TEA.

On the day it opened in 1894, Union Station was the largest and busiest train station in the world, and it required a train shed with the largest roof span in the world to accommodate its 42 tracks, which served 100,000 passengers per day. Union Station’s Grand Hall, with its vaulted ceiling, would embrace millions of personal stories, from the revelry of visitors celebrating St. Louis’ 1904 World’s Fair to the reunion of soldiers with their families after World War II.  But with the aviation industry literally taking flight in the 1950s and 60s, and despite its designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1970, Union Station and its Grand Hall began to fall into disrepair and neglect. In 2012, Lodging Hospitality Management (LHM) purchased the property and were tasked with finding unique ways to drive visitation to Union Station’s new hotel, dining, and shopping options while still maintaining the Grand Hall’s historic character.

The solution to this challenge became a first-of-its kind projection mapping experience. Projected on the Grand Hall’s 65-foot tall ceilings and across the entire space, this 3D experience is comprised of 30 vignettes, all stretching the barrier of creative design, innovation and historical storytelling. Visitors can take in the remarkable animation in vivid color with music and narration of historical portions provided by television and film personalities closely connected to St. Louis, including John Goodman, Jon Hamm, Bob Costas. Because the show differs slightly with every hourly evening performance, visitors have reason to experience this kaleidoscope of images again and again.

JRA provided concept and scripting for Union Station’s Grand Hall Experience, with media produced by Technomedia. The multimedia attraction received the TEA's 2015 Thea Award and the 2014 IAAPA Brass Ring Award.

Attendees of the TEA Grand Hall Mixer had the opportunity to mix and mingle with the Association's International and Divisional Board Members, who were in town for the annual TEA Strategic Planning Meeting. They were also treated to appetizers, beverages, special presentations of the Grand Hall Experience Show vignettes, and a presentation from Stephen O'Loughlin of LHMC, Shawn McCoy of JRA and Nathaniel of Technomedia.

Couldn't make it to the event? Here's a look at how the Grand Hall Experience was created, as well as some excerpts from the show.

Many thanks to the TEA, the event sponsors, and Leisure Hospitality Management for hosting a wonderful networking event. Check back next week for an opening announcement that is truly out of this world...

Tags: JRA Journeys , JRA Team , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

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Shawn McCoy's Top Tips for Creating Compelling Children's Museums

January 13, 2016

As reported by Blooloop, JRA’s Shawn McCoy recently presented "Creating Meaningful Children’s Exhibits" at the Museum Education for Children Symposium in Beijing, China. In his presentation, Shawn offers top tips for producing educational and engaging experiences, including providing familiar fun in an inviting context, letting the child be the hero and offering challenges and rewards. In addition to offering design philosophies, he suggests tangible tools for executing a great exhibit, including captivating graphics, opportunities for role play, and immersive environments.

Shawn was kind enough to record his presentation for the JRA blog, which we've included below. Questions about the content? Want to learn more? Contact us at crice@jackrouse.com.

And speaking of children's museums, we have two opening within the next few months, so stay tuned!

Tags: Blog N Learn , JRA Team

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From the Arctic Tundra to the Vastness of Space: A Look at JRA in 2016

January 06, 2016

Welcome back to the JRA blog, and Happy New Year! We've rested and re-charged, and now we're ready to get to work, visiting new places, and opening more projects in 2016. Here's a look at what's ahead for JRA:

January 2016
As we mentioned in our exclusive video sneak peek, Space Center Houston will open its Independence Plaza exhibit later this month. Visitors will be able to enter an original shuttle carrier aircraft - one of the only two that ever existed - and walk where heroes walked, touch what heroes touched and experience the groundbreaking era of space exploration through educational exhibits. JRA has provided master planning, design and project management for this “out of this world” attraction.

February 2016
Another Texas opening! The Permian Basin Petroleum Museum will complete its $18 million renovation in mid-February. The museum shares the petroleum and energy story and its impact on daily life through educational programs, interactive exhibits, an archival center and its Petroleum Hall of Fame. JRA has provided overall planning, design, project management, executive media production and art direction for the renovation.


February 2016
JRA CEO Keith James will provide the keynote address at the Themed Entertainment Association's "SATE Academy Day: Designing for Extremes" in "the home of Santa Claus" (aka Rovaniemi, Finland).

Spring 2016
LaunchPad Children's Museum (formerly Children's Museum of Siouxland) opens in Sioux City, Iowa.  The museum’s 8,000 square feet of exhibits will teach children ages 6-10 basic STEAM principles through hands-on play on subjects such as agriculture, renewable energy and consumer science.

Spring 2016
The Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History opens its new JRA-designed Children’s Science Center. The new Center will feature interactive periodic tables, a physics and engineering area, a planetarium and a three-story DNA strand climber.

April 2016
JRA CEO Keith James will receive the Themed Entertainment Association's Buzz Price Award for a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements. The award, considered the "Lifetime Achivement Oscar" of the industry, will be presented to James at the Thea Awards Gala at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California on Saturday, April 2nd.

Keith James (center) with TEA President Steve Birket and TEA CEO Jennie Nevin at the Thea Awards Announcement.

May 2016
Visit us at the 2016 Association of Children’s Museums Interactivity Conference May 4-7! The conference, themed “Collective Impact,” will be hosted by the Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk, Connecticut.

May 2016
Later in May, you can also find us at the annual American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo in Washington, DC.

June 2016
The 2016 JRA Conference World Tour continues at the 2016 IAAPA Asian Attractions Expo in Shanghai, China June 13-16. Themed “Creating Opportunity Through Innovation,” the 2016 Expo will welcome more than 7,000 attractions industry professionals, including over 300 exhibiting companies.

September 2016
Enjoy the fall Florida weather! Visit us at the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) Conference, hosted by Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry.


October 2016
Bienvenido a Barcelona!  The 2016 IAAPA European Attractions Expo offers some Spanish flare October 5-7. Come say “buenos dias” to JRA at our booth.

November 2016

For the sixth consecutive year, JRA VP of Marketing and Business Development, Shawn McCoy, will speak at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo on how audience engagement techniques used by theme parks and commercial attractions can be applied to the museum and cultural sector.

Late 2016
 “The King Abdullah Memorial Initiative” exhibit begins its national tour. This project highlights the life and legacy of the late King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, It also showcases his efforts toward improving educational opportunities for Saudi youth and developing the technological infrastructure of the country, as well as his desire to conserve the natural environment of the Arabian Peninsula.


To get all of the latest updates on these and other projects and events, subscribe to this blog, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. We look forward to working with you in 2016!


Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio

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Happy New Year!

January 01, 2016

JRA wishes you and yours a bright, beautiful and prosperous 2016!


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