Friday, February 10, 2012

FACING MARS: Let the Countdown Begin

Five... four... three... two... one...

It's hard for us civilians to imagine what a trip to our neighboring planet of Mars would be like, from the sensation of watching Earth shrink slowly into the distance during lift off to daily life in space for three years (three years?!?!). When Kelly and I went for a sneak peak at the Grand Rapids Public Museum's new exhibit, FACING MARS, we found ourselves saying one phrase over and over again: "I never thought about that before!"

FACING MARS, which opens this Saturday, begins with the question, "Would you travel to Mars?", before leading you through 28 hands-on stations designed to give you the Mars Experience while exploring the physical, emotional, and psychological effects of space travel. For example, could you live thisclose to another person without letting their moods and emotions affect you? What effects does space travel have on your body and what would happen if you were to get sick? What would it feel like to walk on Mars, and how would simple tasks be different than here on Earth? The Public Museum is gifted at hiding all this learning is done is a fun, physical activities. Little astronauts and big ones alike will be so entertained by building rockets and seeing the world through a Mars' sand storm that they won't even realize that they're having an educationally-charged time.

The exhibit comes full circle when it asks you the same initial question you answered when walking in: "Would you travel to Mars?" While my answer is no, I am definitely going back to FACING MARS to for an hour or two of pretend Martian life. That I can handle. Three years of space food? Not so much.

FACING MARS runs from February 11 - May 6, 2012, with special MARS Madness Nights February 15 - 18, March 13 - 16, March 30 - April 7, and May 1 - 3.  These family-friendly nights offer extended evening hours, admission into the museum and exhibit, the Our Bodies in Space planetarium show and dinner of Spaghetti and Meteorites for $6.50 (members) or $12 (non-members). A great deal, if you ask me, and who wouldn't want to eat "meteorites" with their pasta? (Don't worry, they're actually meatballs.)

Fun Facts About Mars and Space Exploration
  • Roughly every two years, Earth and Mars are at their closest proximity. This will happen again in March of 2012 [3]
  • One full rotation of a planet is called a day. Days on Mars are also called Sols, and last 24 hours and 38 minutes. [3]
  • The highest point on Mars is Olympus Mons, an extinct volcano about 15 miles high [3]
  •  Mars has the largest canyon (Valles Marineris) in the solar system. If it were on Earth, it would stretch right across the United States. [1]
  • The Moon is Earth’s only natural satellite. Mars has two satellites called Diemos and Phobos [3]
  •  Dust storms are one of the biggest challenges astronauts will face on Mars. They can cover the entire planet for months at a time. [3]
  • The first man-made object landed on Mars in May 1971 when the USSR’s spacecraft Mars 3 landed and sent signals back to Earth for approximately 20 seconds. [3]
  • Two Mars rovers were sent in 2003, Spirit and Opportunity. Spirit sent its last communication to Earth on March 22, 2010. Opportunity is still functioning. Both rovers lasted much longer than their original planned 90-sol missions. [4]
  •  Mars is known as the Red Planet. Although much of Mars’ surface is composed of basalt – a hard volcanic rock – it is the iron oxide dust covering Mars that gives it its red color. [3]
  •  Mars is named after the Roman god of War. [3]
  • The diameter of Mars is 4,200 miles, a little over half that of the Earth. Mercury is the only planet smaller than Mars. [2]

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