Mission Moon encourages kids to reach for the stars

Back when I was about 10, I wanted to be an astronaut. I was fascinated by the concept of zero gravity and video footage of astronauts gulping liquid out of the air. Like most kids, I thought astronaut ice cream was pretty much the coolest thing ever. And I was convinced that I would never throw up on that spinning chair they used at space camp.

If you go

  • Mission Moon opens at 9:30 a.m. April 11 to the general public
  • Grand opening includes an 11 a.m. screening of “Apollo 13”
  • Exhibition is included with general admission

Of course, by the time I reached high school, I had realized my aptitude was not in science, and my interests naturally turned elsewhere. But this morning, touring the brand new permanent exhibition at Adler Planetarium, Mission Moon, I have to admit that the little girl inside of me re-emerged. How cool would it be to visit the moon?

That’s the whole point of Mission Moon, which tells the story of the American space program, from the early days of the Mercury program through breakthroughs of the Gemini program and the best known successes – and failures – of the Apollo program, including man walking on the moon.

The unifying factor is Captain Jim Lovell, the legendary NASA astronaut who was there pretty much every step of the way. Lovell, now 87, helped Adler with much of the exhibit and contributed many of its artifacts.

Mission Moon begins with Lovell’s childhood dream of working with rockets (and invites visitors to launch a rocket of their own), then his experience of being rejected by NASA for the Mercury 7 mission, which teaches a valuable lesson about setbacks and perseverance. Later, visitors can “play Mission Control,” as Lovell did for some of the Gemini missions, listening to real audio footage of Lovell talking to Neil Armstrong.

The real highlight of the exhibit is the Gemini 12 Spacecraft, which was where Lovell and Buzz Aldrin spent four days together back in 1966. Planetarium staff have designed it especially for kids to be able to see inside and visitors can now walk all the way around the module to really get a sense for its size (and give my fellow claustrophobics heart palpitations). This part of the exhibition also addresses one of the most common questions asked at Adler: How do you go to the bathroom in space?

Then, Mission Moon moves into the Apollo years, covering the tragedy of Apollo 1, video footage of Apollo 8’s orbit around the moon and Apollo 11’s moon landing (and a chance for visitors to stand in Armstrong’s footprints for a photo op), and of course, Lovell’s most famous mission, Apollo 13. Visitors can listen to a “squawk box” like Lovell’s family had in their living room during the mission, or take on the “Power Challenge” to determine how to get the spaceship back to earth safely. Keep an eye out for Lovell’s helmet, where kids can see their own reflections as explorers.

The final aspect of the exhibition allows visitors to explore the Moon on the Moon Wall, see a piece of moon rock and consider what – and who – is next to explore space.

And while I’ve come to terms with the fact that I won’t ever be an astronaut, it was pretty fun to pretend to be one for a couple of hours. And I can’t wait to see kids be inspired to reach for their dreams, despite setbacks or flat-out disasters, for years to come.

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