The first choice that confronts a visitor to "Destination: Space!" is whether to play astronaut-in-training. If so, you step onto the Tri-Axis Astronaut Trainer, a contraption that looks like three wildly gyrating hula hoops and is supposed to give a rider the feeling of disorientation that arises from weightlessness in space.
And it does, from first reports.
"It really got me spinning in all directions," said Carl Trost, who helped put up the exhibit at the Buffalo Museum of Science.
After a few turns in the trainer, guinea pig Trost had this reaction: It felt like you got a good aerobic workout.
Any visitor who wants to try it is welcome, if he or she is: between 3 feet, 11 inches and 6 feet, 2 inches tall and not over 250 pounds. Riders must wear shorts or slacks, and flat shoes, and must pull their long hair back. The ride costs $2.
The less adventurous can simply step onto a set of footprints -- invited by a chipmunky electronic voice -- to determine their height. An electronic sensor calculates the height and announces whether you are astronaut material. For the record, an astronaut must be between 64 and 72 inches in height, so that everyone in the spacecraft can use the same equipment and function in tight quarters.
Created by the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, "Destination: Space!" fills a new 6,500-square-foot gallery, a space that was created by consolidating three small galleries directly across the hall from "Whem Ankh." With its new flooring, wall and ceiling coverings, this new space allows the museum to bring in midsize exhibits.
If this exhibit feels as much like an art show as one about space, there's good reason. It was built around the 75 pieces of artwork of Robert McCall of Columbus, who has been recording historic and imaginative views of humankind's adventures into space since he visited Cape Canaveral in 1958. McCall has chronicled U.S. milestones in space for NASA, including stunning interpretations of the reaches of technology, always with a human touch.
He painted "The Space Mural: A Cosmic View," a six-story mural for the National Air and Space Museum, and others at the Johnson Space Center and Epcot Center. In a mock-up studio, budding astronaut/artists can envision how McCall creates these much-larger-than-life murals by adding their touches to a large grid that is part of the process.
They can also play with the popular K'Nex building pieces, which are stashed in bins, inviting them to create something that has never been made before. Each youngster can take home a small K'Nex creation of his own making.
The play area is dominated by a 9-by-13-foot K'Nex mural that took 173 hours and 57,000 pieces to make. It's a plastic interpretation of McCall's painting of the Columbia space shuttle's victorious return on April 14, 1981.
In other areas, visitors can pretend they are doing a live broadcast from the face of the moon as TV newsperson "Dusty Rock," and see a Space Life Lab that shows the equipment and supplies found in an "apartment" in space, including a sink where hands are washed under a plastic bubble and a toilet that requires the use of a seat belt because of weightlessness.
Also in the exhibit is space memorabilia that includes a photograph of the ill-fated 1984 Challenger crew and another showing Hoot Gibson and Vladimir Dezhurov grasping hands in a docking tunnel between the space shuttle Atlantis and the Mir space station in June 1995, along with patches and stamps honoring various flights and images of man's most famous footprint.
Also, on weekends, the Boeing Co.'s Star Station One will provide updates on the International Space Station, a gigantic Earth-orbiting research laboratory that is being built by 16 nations under the auspices of NASA. There will be demonstrations on what it takes to live in space, including how astronauts exercise and why their faces appear so puffy in their first few days in space.