The "Buffalo in Space" exhibit that opens today at the Buffalo Museum of Science offers new ways to learn about outer space – and to have fun doing so.
At one work/play station, paper rockets are made and then tested by launching them with air pumps. At another, a short stop-motion film with a planet's surface as a backdrop is made one frame at a time, using props and characters.
Those stations are expected to be among the most popular in the museum's eighth and last permanent exhibit, which cost about $1 million.
"Space is the greatest – and wildest – of all possible frontiers, but it often feels too big to understand," said Marisa Wigglesworth, the museum's president and CEO. "We created 'Buffalo in Space' to provide a hands-on, engaging experience that helps guests connect to space and see it from the perspective of the city of Buffalo, our planet and even our galaxy."
The new science studio caps a five-year makeover of all of the museum's galleries. The Kellogg Observatory, which will connect to the fourth-floor Buffalo in Space by stairs and elevator, will reopen in spring 2018 after a nearly 20-year absence.
"The science studio is a great marker for the all-new Buffalo Museum of Science," Wigglesworth said. "I think so many people in our Western New York region may not be aware that we are all-new, immersive and hands-on, and are truly a very different visitor experience than we were decades ago."
Monday's opening coincides with the public viewing of the solar eclipse on the grounds. Safe viewing glasses will be handed out, food trucks will be present, and science experts will be on hand for the rare event, beginning at 1 p.m.
The U.S. Postal Service also set up a mini-post office in Hamlin Hall with a pictorial postmark of the eclipse to commemorate the day.
The new science studio, which replaces "Our Place in Space," also pays tribute to the space and aerospace contributions made by Western New York companies, past and present. Some companies that contributed to "Buffalo in Space" include Moog and Northrop Grumman.
"We wanted to have Buffalo companies represented," said David Cinquino, director of exhibits. "One of the nice things about what we do here is to teach 9 year old's how to become scientists and get a career, and stay in Western New York if they want to."
Some of the 15 stations include references to Buffalo products, including Loganberry, Spot Coffee and Weber's Mustard, to give the science studio a local feel, Wigglesworth said.
Planets, naturally, get a lot of attention. Their size and scale are shown in relation to the moon as each appears over Buffalo's cityscape. One's weight on earth can compared to what it would be on each of the other planets. And the light years between them – as well as miles and even the length of the Bills' football field – are shown in another exhibit by swiping a screen to go from one planet to another. (Pluto lovers, take heart: It's included, though with an asterisk.)
Other stations include an installation that shows the phases of the moon as it rotates around the Earth; one that makes use of a giant, 1950s-era globe about space junk and how it threatens spacecraft; another on making choices on what to pack for space travel; and one on reading about local careers in the aerospace industry.
The science studio was put together over the past 1 1/2 years.
In addition, the museum has moved its gift shop to the first floor, by the concession area and next to National Geographic 3D Cinema.