In sixth grade I had a science teacher who changed how I view not only the world, but everything. His enthusiasm encouraged me to enter a school science competition to launch a 2-liter bottle as far as possible using only mechanical and aerodynamic means.
Most kids created some kind of catapult or slingshot; mine was a heavy four-post design that could stretch some industrial rubber belts. I don’t recall exactly how far it flew, but after reaching its apex in height, it seemed to glide forever (and off of school property). And that was when I realized I love science.
I digested everything I could get my hands on, entered math and science competitions, and took my ACTs in seventh grade. Scientist Carl Sagan was my hero (think Neil Degrasse Tyson, but decades earlier). I wanted to be an astronaut, and I wanted to be on the first manned mission to Mars. (My eighth-grade astronomy teacher told me I was the right age!)
While I’m clearly not going to make it to Mars, I did make it to NASA for a brief time to teach strength training to some astronauts. But not making it to space isn’t the point. The hands-on experience of learning and seeing what science (and a little elbow grease) could do fueled lifelong learning. Most importantly, I dreamed big and looked at the world around me with wonder and awe.
That is a gift worth giving to all, adults and children alike. It’s also precisely what Clark Planetarium is designed to do.
“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” ― Carl Sagan
Strut Your Star-Stuff
Clark Planetarium’s “interactive exhibits” (they prefer not to call them “video games” even though that’s what they are) are jaw-dropping. They are meant to be touched and explored. Each floor of the learning center is aimed at certain areas of interactive education, one floor each for Earth, near Earth, and beyond!
Upon entering the Earth realm you are met with an interactive sphere. Want to see what fires or droughts the Earth is experiencing at this very moment? Say the magic word, and it will be shown. While you’re there, why don’t you design your own solar system — if you do it right (wrong?), your red dwarf can transition all the way to a big bang (game over). You can even defend your home planet from cosmic impacts in an epic video game … er … “interactive exhibit.”
As your adventure leads you into space, explore the mysteries that are near Earth. Imagine you’re Commander Neil Armstrong and attempt to pilot the lunar lander, experiencing the forces of gravity, acceleration, and inertia on the moon.
The top floor of the exhibit takes star travelers to the ends of our solar system and beyond. Start on Io, one of Jupiter’s largest moons, to program and drive your own exploratory rover. Learn about star size and density with hands-on activities, or gaze into the Vanta Black Hole, which is made from the darkest material ever created by humans.
If an enthusiastic science teacher and a homemade bottle launcher were so effective with me, imagine what possibilities exist within Clark Planetarium. At the very least, it’s educational family fun. As Carl Sagan would say, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
You never know, you could be inspiring the next great mind that turns the impossible into an incredible reality.