You are here: Home > Travel Ideas > Beyond Planet Earth: Exhibit looks at where space travel has been and where … – The Star-Ledger

Beyond Planet Earth: Exhibit looks at where space travel has been and where … – The Star-Ledger

TK1118cent-spaceSCREEN.JPGVisitors to “Beyond Planet Earth” will be able to engage in an interactive “œgame” to transform Mars from a frozen, thin-aired environment into an Earth-like planet, a process known as “terraforming.”

Space travel sounds glamorous and thrilling, but the new American Museum of Natural History exhibit on space travel and colonization sets the record straight.

It can be cold, lonely — and terrifying — out in space. (Elton John and Bernie Taupin realized this when they wrote John’s 1972 hit “Rocket Man”; the rest of us are living out the fantasy.)

“Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration,” opening on Saturday, amply demonstrates that space travel, Jules Verne to the contrary, is not what it’s cracked up to be.

A model of the Vostok 1 spacecraft resembles a hulking iron buoy, something seemingly incapable of orbiting Earth, but Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, did just that in his 108-minute flight in 1961.

A model of an expandable spacecraft resembles a giant, silvery popped bag of popcorn, albeit one made from 10-plus layers of a Kevlar-like fabric that could house four astronauts for several months.

tk1118cent-curiosity.JPGA full-scale replica of a Martian rover is one of the exhibits at “Beyond Planet Earth.”

And if you want to grow up to be an astronaut, or work on the International Space Station, you’ll have to say goodbye to pretty much all your favorite foods.

Food that produces crumbs, bubbles or strong odors is banned on space missions; approved foods include tortillas, milk, yogurt, cheese and recycled urine.

Yes, you read right.

When properly filtered, it provides “a reusable water supply,” according to one display.

“Beyond Planet Earth,” whose opening coincides with the 50th anniversary of human space travel, is less concerned with the history of space exploration and travel than its future.

There are full-scale, gee-whiz models of Sputnik (the first man-made satellite), the Apollo lunar module and the Hubble Space Telescope — along with a robotic submersible and a full-size walk-through diorama of the Martian landscape.

tk1118cent-sovietcraft.JPGA replica of Vostok 1, which Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, piloted in his 108-minute flight in 1961.

“There’s no science fiction in any of this,” says exhibit curator Michael Shara, of the museum’s department of astrophysics.

Even the most far-fetched ideas — a “space elevator” with 28,000 miles of cable to ferry lunar materials to a docking station for eventual transport to Earth — are being discussed by scientists and are no longer just the stuff of sci-fi novels.

“Humanity’s fascination with space travel is, at its core, part of our larger instinct to explore the natural world,” said Ellen V. Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History. “This year, with groundbreaking discoveries of hundreds of exoplanets and the upcoming launch of the most scientifically advanced Mars rover to date, has already ushered us into the next phase of space exploration.”

Mankind, says Shara, is “at a huge crossroads for space exploration.”

“Beyond Planet Earth” opens with a short course on the Space Race — the feverish competition between the Soviet Union and the United States to be the first in space. Gagarin was the first man in space and Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963, while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men on the moon with Apollo 11 in 1969.

The earliest spacecraft were simple if not crude vehicles; Vostok 1 had a grand total of four switches.

The first spacecraft on the moon, the Soviets’ Luna 2 in 1959, carried metal “soccer balls” that exploded upon impact, scattering pieces marked with the Soviet logo. “symbolically claiming” the moon for the Soviet Union.

On display are lunar sample collection bags, the size of a children’s backpack; a Soviet cosmonaut’s helmet; a model of Richard Branson’s proposed Virgin Atlantic Space Plane (400 people have already placed deposits toward the $200,000 ride); and photos from the Hubble Space Telescope, including one of a heavenly column of hydrogen gas and dust 3 light-years tall. One light-year equals 5.88 trillion miles.

There is also a model of a Mars rover, with its oversize tires and bluish wing-like panels resembling some strangely beautiful sci-fi insect on wheels.

Those who have always wondered what space garbage looks like will be intrigued by an actual specimen of said garbage, from NASA’s Space Shuttle, consisting of tin foil and at least one protein bar held fast in some unidentified whitish-gray substance.

At one bank of monitors, visitors can navigate their way around Mars. Nearby, you can find out if you have the right stuff for space. A series of six questions tests your adaptability.

“Astronauts keep clean with dry shampoo and baby wipes,” asks one. “Could you give up bathing for a year?”

Another display explores fictional journeys to other planets such as Cyrano de Bergerac’s 1656 “The Government of the World in the Moon,” Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” and Fritz Lang’s 1929 silent movie “Frau im Mond” (“Woman in the Moon”), which marks the first time in fiction that a rocket launches after countdown. And don’t forget Robert Heinlein’s 1952 “The Rolling Stones,” about the adventures of the Stone family through the solar system.

A final set of panels details possible steps toward human colonization of Mars. First challenge: the warming of the Martian poles to release frozen water and carbon dioxide.

The exoplanets, discovered in a small portion of the Milky Way, form the basis of the exhibit’s most electrifying section, a holographic representation of these “super-planets.”

IPhone, iPod Touch and iPad 2 users can download the free exhibit app, which enables you to find a Mars-bound spaceship, glimpse a near-Earth asteroid, watch an elevator take off from the Moon and more.

The exhibit ends, not surprisingly, in a gift shop, where you can buy man-on-the-moon snow globes, plastic robot claws, glow-in-the-dark stars and even Astronaut Ice Cream — a freeze-dried, ready-to-eat treat for the spaceman and woman in all of us.

Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration
Where: The American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York
When: Saturday through Aug. 12, 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. daily, closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
How much: Tickets at the museum’s suggested general admission price with admission to this exhibit included are $25 ($19 for students and seniors, $14.50 for children). Visitors who wish to pay less than the suggested general admission price and also purchase a ticket to this exhibit may do so at the museum only (online tickets are only available at the suggested general admission price). To the amount they wish to pay for general admission, they should add $22 ($18 for students or seniors, $12 for children). Call (212) 769-5100 or visit

Tags: ,

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.