Got a little Major Tom who can’t hear enough about space travel and Mars visits? Run (or float in your portable zero gravity chamber) to the new in-depth look at what it’s really like to be among the stars. The California Science Center has just opened the brand new Journey To Space Exhibition and 3D film, so your mini moon-walker can get up close and personal with the Final Frontier.

photo: The California Science Center

The Atmosphere
The entire exhibit mimics outer space, with a very dark interior lit by bright star-like lights above. It’s bright enough to see & enjoy everything, but definitely gives off the vibe that you’re walking in the night-time sky. Kids will love all there is to see—and touch! Little explorers get a hands-on, climb-aboard experience of what it’s like to live and work in space. The exhibition examines the extraordinary environment of space, including the very real dangers astronauts face during their mission above Earth. Kids will learn about the vacuum of space, radiation, meteoroids, and temperature extremes, while getting a look at all the ways that humans take on the challenge of exploring such an inhospitable location. Read on for our list of can’t miss activities to plan your visit around.

photo: Elena Wurlitzer Fenegan

A Rocket Launcher
Kids can spend all day here; you may have to drag them away! They get a chance to launch their very own rocket, complete with a voice giving them the count down. Don’t be surprised if you hear echoes of “Three, Two, One, BLAST OFF!” from the backseat while you drive home.

photo: Elena Wurlitzer Fenegan

The Destiny Lab
This lab looks like it came straight out of a sci-fi movie set. Kids of all ages (even strollers are allowed) can enter a full-scale replica of the Destiny Lab, the primary research facility for the U.S. International Space Station. You’ll experience the sights, sounds, and smells on board an orbiting lab: yep, the entire lab rotates around you, so although you’re standing still, it gives you the illusion of spinning. It can cause dizziness and/or nausea for some (so skip the carne asada breakfast burrito beforehand), but that’s helped by closing your eyes and holding on to the railing. While you spin, you get a virtual tour from astronauts who have worked there. Thankfully, you’ll only be topsy-turvy for four minutes, and your kids will get a kick out of seeing all the futuristic things inside the lab (Robo-nauts!).

photo: Elena Wurlitzer Fenegan

A Play Space Station
Even kids who aren’t planning to go all Matt Damon and be the next Martian will go wild for a miniature version of a real space station. It’s like a dollhouse, except that it’s a replica of where astronauts live and work in space. Your kids get to play with the soft astronaut dolls (girls will love the female astronauts, who each have ponytails), and move them around the space station areas. There are even tiny space helmets to complete the look. Your tyke might have their mini astronaut tend to the garden lab to grow plants, or work on an injured astronaut in the medic station. There are domino-style pieces to represent medicine, tools, microscopes and more. Kids get really into as they take turns commanding the ship or warding off a pretend alien attack. Step back and enjoy watching as groups of kids instantly form a space team and play together.

photo: Elena Wurlitzer Fenegan

In addition to all the fun hands-on activities, there are also several huge screens around the exhibit, showing incredible footage, from an aerial view of the Northern lights from Wisconsin to the East Coast, to astronauts doing backwards somersaults as they float in mid-air. Kids will also enjoy seeing Neil Armstrong’s gloves, a real space helmet, and an animated video on why astronauts are weightless in space.

photo: Elena Wurlitzer Fenegan

The Journey to Space 3D Film
It’s a short walk from the exhibit to the IMAX theater across the outside courtyard, where you and your little ones will enjoy the mighty experience of IMAX in 3D. Grab a popcorn and a slushie (or other snacks) at the concession, and get your 3D glasses (kid sizes available—and are super cute), and settle into the comfy chairs. The screen takes over the entire wall, so this experience may be a bit intense for tiny tots. The film is narrated by Patrick Stewart (bonus for moms with a crush on Captain Picard), and includes extensive interviews with NASA astronauts.

What’s great about the film (and the exhibit, too) is how many female astronauts are represented, so both little girls and boys will be equally inspired. Through visually stunning imagery, the film showcases the exciting plans NASA has, such as a human mission to Mars, which is in the planning stages. Kids will especially love seeing astronauts train 60 feet underwater (mini subs!), as well as a 45 foot tall inflatable space habitat (that may remind kids of a blown-up Baymax). The movie is probably best for kids age 5 & up, and is engaging enough to entertain while educating your wee ones on all that NASA is capable of. With a run-time of 45 minutes, it’s a nice break off from being on your feet, and a good length to make sure little legs don’t get restless.

Wanna make a whole day of it?
The California Science Center is big, with plenty to see. Aside from special exhibits like this, it’s completely free to get in. Your kids will have plenty to see and do, so you can easily spend the entire day there. Oh, and don’t worry about lugging snacks from home—there’s a coffee bar to keep you going, and the Trimana Grill & Market will take care of even the hungriest of space explorers. Newly renovated and located inside the building, you’ll find yummy selections for picky and healthy eaters (from tossed salads, soups and healthy wraps to French fries, chicken tenders and hot dogs). With all the sights and interactive adventures, a day spent here is sure to be out of this world.

Liftoff at the California Science Center is October 29th, 2015.  The exhibit runs through May 8th, 2016.  The exhibit is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily and entrance is $9.75 for adults and $6.25 for kids.  You can get a combo ticket for the exhibit plus the 3D IMAX film for $16.75 for adults and $13.50 for kids. You can buy tickets online to reserve an entry date & time.

Parking is available in the lot for $10 a day.

The California Science Center
700 Exposition Park Dr.
Exposition Park

—Elena Wurlitzer Fenegan

Let us know how you enjoy your visit to the Journey to Space Exhibit and 3D Film! What was your small space explorer’s favorite thing to see?

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