By GREGORY ZELLER //
Attention, space cadets: For a really out-of-this-world adventure, put down your new Blu-ray copy of “Solo” and beam over to the Cradle of Aviation Museum, where one of the planet’s largest interactive space exhibits is about to touch down.
A “Star Wars” story is always fun, but nothing beats the real thing, and to that end, “Space: A Journey to Our Future” – a traveling NASA show sponsored locally by the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation – arrives this month.
While it lands in September, the exhibit will officially pop its hatch Oct. 5, when former Long Islander Robert “Hoot” Gibson – a retired astronaut and five-time space shuttle crewman – commands a formal opening ceremony at the Garden City museum.
Featuring never-before-seen artifacts from the historic moon landings – including spacesuits and at least one been-to-the-moon-and-back item from every Apollo moon mission – the temporary exhibit expands on the museum’s already impressive NASA payload. The Cradle of Aviation is the permanent home of one of two existing Apollo Lunar Modules and what the museum bills as “the world’s best collection of Lunar Module artifacts.”
With the new exhibit – part of the museum’s Countdown to Apollo at 50 celebration, marking the golden anniversary of the first-ever, awe-inspiring July 1969 moon landing – the Cradle of Aviation truly expands its final frontier. “A Journey to Our Future” serves up educational elements in scenic environments designed to spark the imagination, stocked with child-friendly interactive displays and state-of-the-art projection and audio technologies.
The idea is to bring the epic story of the Apollo missions to life, while stoking the dreams of a young generation likely to crew this century’s treks to Mars and beyond.
By combining nostalgia for heroes like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin with futuristic flights of fancy, “A Journey to Our Future” will “provide visitors with a fun and interactive way of looking at the future of our space-travel experience,” according to Andrew Parton, president of the Cradle of Aviation Museum and Education Center.
“We’re very excited to be able to bring this new exhibit to the Cradle of Aviation Museum,” Parton added. “We hope the exhibit inspires the next generation of explorers to look to the stars.”
To do that, “Journey to Our Future’s” interactive computer exhibits allow visitors to fly remote drones over the simulated Mars surface, build a Mars basecamp and design spacecraft capable of reaching the Red Planet or even Alpha Centauri, a trinary star system (three stars) that’s only 4.7 lightyears from the Solar System – making it the closest star system to our own.
Other exhibits include a walkthrough of a full-sized prototype for a potential Mars habitat, explorations of “the nature of light” featuring different types of telescopes, infrared cameras that can project body temperatures as colors and a tour of a “virtual city” that showcases NASA’s influences on everyday life here on Earth.
In Gibson, the Huntington High School graduate who will preside over the “Journey to Our Future” opening ceremony, visitors can offer a Vulcan salute to a U.S. Navy captain, engineer and longtime aviator who piloted one space shuttle flight and commanded four others, totaling more than 36 days in space.
Before blasting into space, Gibson – who earned an associate’s degree in engineering science from Suffolk County Community College and a bachelor’s of science degree in aeronautical engineering from California Polytechnic State University – was commissioned through the U.S. Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School and flew combat missions over Southeast Asia.
Selected for NASA training in 1978, he also served two years as chief of the space administration’s Astronaut Office and a stint as deputy director of Flight Crew Operations.
Among his extraterrestrial accomplishments were numerous satellite deployments for commercial and military purposes; Gibson also commanded missions featuring the first Japanese astronaut to fly on a U.S. space shuttle and America’s first African American female astronaut, Mae Jemison.
Along with the spaced-out attractions of the “Journey to Our Future” exhibition, visitors can also enjoy the permanent exhibits on display at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, a recent addition to New York State’s National Register of Historic Places and home to Long Island’s only “giant screen dome theater,” as well as 75 air- and spacecraft representing 100-plus years of aviation history.
“Space: A Journey to Our Future” is scheduled to remain docked at the Cradle of Aviation Museum through next August. More information on the temporary exhibit is available here.