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PHOTOS: Spaced Out at the Science Museum of Virginia

Showcasing how astronauts live and work, “Space” opens Saturday, May 27, and runs through Labor Day.




Suit up and strap in! The Science Museum of Virginia is blasting guests into the cosmos this summer with the touring exhibition “Space: An Out-of-Gravity Experience.”

Showcasing how astronauts live and work, “Space” opens Saturday, May 27, and runs through Labor Day. It features dozens of hands-on stations letting guests explore the extraordinary environment of space, including the dangers humans face during their missions and adaptations engineers have developed to help them survive. Unlike many space exhibitions that focus on the history of cosmic adventures, “Space” looks to the future, both in what scientific innovations will be needed and what considerations are involved when (not if!) we construct a colony on Mars.

“While many of us have probably imagined what it’s like to live in space, very few humans ever get the chance to go,” said Science Museum Astronomer Justin Bartel. “This exhibition offers the next-best experience to engage in that exciting journey in an immersive way.”

We were invited to the media preview of the Science Museum of Virginia’s latest touring exhibition “Space: An Out-of-Gravity Experience.” Photos and a little commentary below. Tickets an more information at the Science Museum’s website reached by the first link above.

The vast majority of exhibits are interactive. For obvious reasons, some dramatic pieces of history are hands-off.

Yes, the space toilet is interactive but no you don’t get to test it out. The metal bars towards the front keep you from floating away while taking care of business.

There are videos throughout with astronauts giving details on the subject matter. The one about the bathroom was surprisingly detailed and informative. When viewing with children and immature adults (i.e. me) expect giggles.

Witness the impact of a meteoroid and how NASA deals with the potential danger.

I liked the space station dollhouse way more than a 50+ year old man should of. Luckily Hans, Sebastian, and Lucy all survived their adventures in my mind.

Space food!!! Space cookies!!! The video for this station was fascinating.


Speaking of food you can handle jars of peanut butter (no actual peanuts so no allergy worries) to feel the weight difference.

As you’d expect gravity is a big player in the exploration of space and the exhibits teach about it in a variety of creative ways. Most stations (not this one) allow for multiple folks to explore and learn so should be nice even if crowded.

Tangent Alert: The space station pictured above was created by NASA Ames Research Center, maybe Donald Davis but several artists were used and I couldn’t find any artist credit. In the 1970’s NASA started contemplating cities in space. One idea such as pictured above was the Stanford Torus. There is a fascinating article about the art and theories on a space city in this article by Bloomberg, NASA’s Groovy Concept Art for the Orbiting Cities of the Future.

This doughnut-shaped colony was much smaller, with an inside ring diameter of one mile compared to the cylindrical colony’s 4 miles, but was still expansive enough to promote the growth of a vibrant space society.

Just what kind of society it would be is an open question. NASA thought of all kinds of possible uses for orbiting cities, from penal institutions to refuges for political dissidents to friendly environments for the disabled, where paraplegics could zoom around on ADA-compliant hovercrafts. The space agency called these cities the “ultimate gated community,” explaining:

On Earth it is essential that diverse groups learn to live in close proximity. It’s hard to live with five or six billion homo sapiens, and some people can’t seem to do it gracefully. Space settlements offer an alternative to changing human nature or endless conflict – the ability to live in fairly homogeneous groups, as has been the norm throughout hundreds of thousands of years of human existence. Those who can’t get along can be separated by millions of miles of hard vacuum, which in some cases seems necessary. All entry into a space settlement must be through an airlock, so controlling immigration should be trivial.

Propulsion can be very pretty. Not able to catch much of the arcing electricity but trust me it’s cool.

I’m not saying I could kick butt in the robotic arm, only using the camera, Olympics but I’d definitely be in the running.

The centerpiece of the exhibit was the two sections of the International Space Station’s, Destiny Lab. In order to simulate conditions, you stand on a walkway and the sections move around you. It’s very disconcerting at first and especially if you look towards the end. No real way to capture this feeling it must be experienced.

The view from the International Space Station is pretty nice.

“Space” is available through a combination ticket that includes access to the Science Museum’s regular exhibitions, labs and demos. Admission is $22 for adults; $19 for youth (ages 6-12) and seniors (ages 60 and older); and $15 for preschool-aged children (ages 3-5). Discounts are available for teachers, military personnel and through the Museums for All program. Science Museum members receive unlimited free admission to the Science Museum and the touring exhibition. Guests may purchase tickets on the Science Museum’s website or in person at Guest Services when they arrive.

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Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game.