By MARY THURWACHTER
Palms West Monthly
Posted Nov. 1, 2017
WEST PALM BEACH — Mark Patten V found himself dwarfed by the large space ship control panel in front of him. The monitor’s first message read “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
But the Palm Beach Gardens boy wasn’t the least bit bothered. At 2½ years old, he couldn’t read it anyway. He didn’t know that cabin pressure was low or that the temperature aboard the vessel was too high. All he knew was that the interactive exhibit was a fun toy with colored lights, one he didn’t want to share with his twin sister Gabriella, who muscled in to test the exhibit for herself.
“They’re really enjoying this,” said Erika Patten, their mother. The family was among the first to view “Astronaut,” the latest exhibition at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach. The exhibit, which opened Oct. 14, continues through April 22.
“This exhibit really makes you feel like you’re in the International Space Station, and it’s incredible,” said Lew Crampton, president and CEO of the Science Center. “You don’t have to be a space junkie to have fun, and there’s something for everyone, old and young.”
With hands-on and full-body displays, the science exhibition investigates the reality of what it takes to be a space explorer. It includes 26 hands-on exhibits to relay the physical and psychological effects of living in microgravity on the human body and the technology used to complete a mission.
Anyone who has ever wondered what it’s like to live like an astronaut can find out by seeing this show. Visitors will gain insight into the physical and mental challenges of living and working in space, experience a rocket launch and explore life on the Space Lab.
Kids of all ages will find out how astronauts exercise (strapped to a stationary bicycle), sleep (tucked into a vertical sleeping bag) and how they go to the bathroom in zero gravity. Visitors also can examine their eyesight and perform strength tests like astronauts do during and after a space flight.
Tyler Schulte, 3½, of Boynton Beach, spun around in a self-propelled space capsule and learned that you can spin around a bunch in space and not be dizzy – but that wasn’t enough to convince a few skeptical grown-ups watching nearby.
What astronauts eat is also examined and guests will learn that food – chosen for taste, nutrition and shelf life – can easily float away. Favorites include nuts and cookies that need no special preparation, and dehydrated spinach and macaroni and cheese that only need water added before consuming. For those who want to know what space treats taste like, a visit to the gift shop for a dehydrated ice cream sandwich will prove satisfying.
In the exhibit’s training zone, visitors learn about some of the challenges involved in becoming an astronaut. They can try their hand at assembling nuts and bolts while wearing bulky space gloves, complete a successful mission and even try to overcome G-forces.
A live feed shows astronauts aboard the International Space Station during their daily routines.
“The Science Center has cultivated partnerships with local retired astronauts, and we are thrilled to team up with them to add their personal journeys to the exhibit,” Crampton said. “They are excited to serve as guest lecturers throughout the display and share their unique knowledge and experiences with guests.”
Before coming to West Palm Beach, “Astronaut” was shown in Houston, Texas. The show was produced by Imagine Exhibitions and designed by Scitech of Perth, Australia, with the help of NASA.
Families who want to spend more time learning about space can take part in a sleepover at the science center that will take place on Nov. 11. The event includes astronomy arts and crafts demonstrations, a planetarium show, star-gazing through high powered telescopes and space explorer training.
Tickets for the sleepover are $40 ($30 for members). Pre-registration is required by calling (561) 832-2026.
Pictured above: Nathan San, 5, from West Palm Beach, sees what it’s like to don a flight suit and train as an astronaut at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium’s newest exhibit, “Astronaut,” which runs through April 22. Photo by Robert Harris/Palms West Monthly