Today, I took my 9 yo daughter and a friend of hers to the Pacific Science Center, to see the “Space” exhibit. The girls liked it, but I'll only give it a C grade.

Highlights:

  • A functioning IR camera with a display screen, but with no useful instructions with what to show. I had to take the girls in front, show them how their fingers were cooler than their hands, and then have them unzip their coats to see how much hotter their bodies were.
  • Some interesting exhibits (a moon rock, a mars meterite)

Lowlights:

  • Very disappointing age-appropriate displays. You want to show kids the different kinds of planetary probes, so you display them with the names of the missions. As if kids have any idea (for example) the difference between Viking, Magellen, etc. Even worse, for earth-orbiting satellites, you list the names of the satellites.
  • A 'trip to mars' section that is, in my mind, a total waste of space. First, you walk down a tunnet to a martian-like surface (okay), where a person directs you to touch an actualy martian meteorite. Okay, that's a bit cool, but there wasn't any depth beyond that. You then go into a 10 meter wide simulation of a martian colony. In cubbies on the side, it has a) a sleeping bunk, b) a fake galley, and c) a two-station computer where you fly an ROV over to investigate “interesting sites“ and shoot probes at that. A very bad video game with no obvious reason and no science tie-in.
  • Too much money spent on shiny and clean exhibit design. Too little money spent on people who understand education and making a subject interesting.
  • A “space bike“ simulator, with three recumbant bike-things like spokes in a wheel. You like down, buckle in, and then the machine spins around which you watch an LED display above your head that displays only “0000“, so you don't get sick. You can pedal if you like, but it doesn't do anything, so I have no idea why they bothered with the pedals. Two minutes, and then you're done.
  • A mock-up of a Saturn V stage, with some well-done launch pad effects and some sonic effects as well. And the point was?
  • Here are the pathetic teacher's resources for the exhibit.

Overall, a huge waste of effort.

As part of the Space them, their are showing “The dream is alive” and “Destiny in space” in the IMAX theater. We went to Destiny in Space, which is undoubtably the worst of the IMAX space films. IMAX films do best when they stay close to an actual action, but this film spends tons of time on poorly-explained planetary eye candy.

We also saw two demos - one on supercold (liquid nitrogen), and one on combustion. Both were far better than the space exhibit.