The Springfield Museums is in the process of constructing a fully-immersive, nearly full-size (26’ x 13’), representation of the International Space Station module Destiny, located next door to the historic Seymour Planetarium on the second floor of the Science Museum. The exhibit will have the look and feel of the actual Space Station, with an “airlock” entrance and a facsimile of the Space Station’s bay window “cupola.”
Our visitors will experience hands-on, interactive, displays within the module (plans include a programmable robotic arm for manipulating objects), and dynamic views of Earth from the exhibit’s cupola.
A number of video displays will be placed around the interior, showing a changing variety of entertaining educational content (e.g., Space Station astronaut activities and experiments, Earth observation and remote sensing material, and climate and weather displays). The module’s inside walls will have a combination of touchable and movable items (e.g., toggles, buttons, dials, lights, and bells) along with recessed exhibition pockets that will hold various items of interest (e.g., living plants growing side-by-side under different lighting conditions to simulate on-orbit experiments); these pockets are designed so that their contents can be changed out and replaced at any time. We expect to include some soft “spacecraft sounds” in the background as well; the ceiling will display actual NASA artifacts, including spacesuit components; and, we’ll provide some educational photo-ops with a jump seat and space toilet.
Our visitors’ ISS experience will begin before they enter the module itself. As they approach the exhibit’s airlock entrance from Astronomy Hall (the second floor’s main gallery), they will first pass through a darkened vestibule, surrounded by a starry sky. In the corner will be mounted a full-size, appropriately-lit, replica of a current NASA spacesuit, and above the airlock will be a small monitor that shows the current ISS ground trace.
We are pleased to say that NASA recently offered us the long-term loan of a large-screen interactive virtual tour of the International Space Station. We will use the interactive tour to promote our ISS exhibit, its integration into the rest of the second floor, including Astronomy Hall and the planetarium, and Earth and space sciences in general.
The Springfield Museums are members of the Space Station Explorers consortium, and we will partner with other members as opportunities arise, and will share our experiences and lessons-learned with them. The Museums has a substantial and effective Education department, and we anticipate that many programs for students of all ages will make use of our ISS exhibit. The Springfield Science Museum is committed to STEM education, and is developing the museum’s entire second floor and nearby rooftop observatory into an integrated, interdisciplinary, space that will provide a rich and entertaining educational experience to all of our visitors.
In the theater next door to the ISS module is the Seymour Planetarium, itself undergoing a complete renovation complete with new carpeting, seating, sound, and lighting. It will, however, retain its magnificent star projector (the oldest in the western hemisphere), built by two Springfield brothers between 1934 and 1937.
In prominent view on the far side of Astronomy Hall, is our new Smithsonian-sponsored, Spark!Lab. Opened in January of this year, Spark!Lab is a popular hands-on invention space where visitors can design, tinker, build, experiment, and play with all kinds of component objects and crafty materials while sparking their innate curiosity and inventive instincts. On the other side of the hall is the full-sized Science Workshop classroom, which will also soon be undergoing a complete renovation and modernization (including digital connectivity to the rest of the second floor, the observatory, and the World Wide Web). We are currently researching new ways to use our observatory, and plan to connect it digitally to the web and the second floor science-activity spaces below; these planned upgrades will make our observatory accessible to underserved communities and to persons with disabilities, while also making possible its potential use in a host of citizen science research programs.
We are confident that our ISS module exhibit – integrated as it is, thematically and programmatically, into the Science Museum’s second floor and with our Education department, will help our audiences associate their museum visits to the various STEM disciplines, that it will positively impact the people of Springfield and the Pioneer Valley, and that it will help the Science Museum fulfill its goal of becoming the region’s premier source of STEM-related informal education and educational entertainment.
Mike Kerr leads the Springfield Science Museum.