Monday, August 3, 2009

Mars Vacation


The Health Museum in Hermann Park, Houston, has amazing interactive exhibits about planet Mars, which will be on display through September.

Upon entering, a planetoid asks, "Would you go to Mars?" and you enter through the "Yes" gate or the "No" gate. The votes are then tallied on digital readouts.

Click to see the Mars Museum album

Later, after you've seen all practical concerns about a visit to Mars -- rocketry, long-term space flight and its ensuing symptoms, landing scenarios, radiation, food and water, communications, geology field trips, dependence upon robot rovers, etc. -- they ask once again at the Exit. Here were the scores on the day we visited:

ENTRANCE: Would You Go To Mars? Yes 13409 No 5695

EXIT: Would You STILL Go To Mars? Yes 12308 No 7695

So, the nays increase after people learn about the complexities and dangers of a trip to the red planet. However, the totals didn't quite match up, so I imagine kids go in and out both doors...

There was a Martian rock on display, tools to build a solar array, remote control rovers, a "flight course" to zoom over the Martian surface in a glider, seeking water sources, and so on.

One fascinating activity was the opportunity to attempt delicate surgery in a weightless environment; you basically play a game of "Operation" while balancing on a wobbly platform! Obviously, this is one of the biggest dangers of a lengthy trip through space: if anything goes wrong en route, astronauts will be entirely on their own in terms of medical needs.

Click to see the Mars Museum album

The biggest draw for us was their "tilted bed" -- much like the ones in which Devin and I spent 78 and 50 days, respectively. We were pleased to see they used this device to "simulate microgravity" just as we had done in our study programs.

Even if you didn't want to do a similar study, when this comes to your local museum you can give it a try for a few minutes. You'll feel the immediate fluid shift, and they also treat visitors to Before and After pictures of what your face would look like after it puffs up in space!

Another interesting, but sobering, demonstration described the crucial matter of bone loss in prolonged weightlessness -- precisely what our time at NASA was all about. Such studies have been conducted under various conditions since 1959, but it's humbling to remember that we still don't know everything. One particular plaque emphasized that "scientists currently don't know if broken bones can truly heal in reduced gravity." No one has broken a bone in space yet.

And if they need volunteers for that study, count me out! ;)