Discovery Place Lets You Experience Liftoff To The Moon, With Interactive Apollo Exhibit

Mark Washburn
The Charlotte Observer

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A new exhibit at Discovery Place Science in Charlotte is called “Apollo: When We Went to the Moon.” As Mark Washburn reports, the exhibit “plays to three generations of visitors: those who grew up during the Cold War space race, those for whom space travel seemed a routine occurrence and the youngest set, who are to witness a new era of moon missions with an eye to plopping boots on Mars.”


It’s a journey into space, time and ingenuity — one that rattles your joints with an immersive blast-off, offers a photo selfie atop a lunar buggy and lets you rub your fingertip on a down-to-earth shard of the moon.

“Apollo: When We Went to the Moon,” which runs the rest of the year at Discovery Place Science, plays to three generations of visitors: those who grew up during the Cold War space race, those for whom space travel seemed a routine occurrence and the youngest set, who are to witness a new era of moon missions with an eye to plopping boots on Mars.

“This is a connection of the past to the future,” said Catherine Wilson Horne, Discovery Place’s president. “If we didn’t have Apollo, we’d never think of going to Mars.”

Entering the exhibition, one must look up to see the little sphere that started such a big fuss — a model of the 1957 Russian Sputnik, Earth’s first satellite. It was a beach-ball sized orbiter visible to the naked eye in cold October nights as it cruised mockingly overhead.

Russian leader Nikita Kruschev thought it a modest science experiment until the awestruck reaction of the West made him realize he had a propaganda bombshell. Sputnik established space as the next frontier, and the moon became a giant bulls-eye for the most intrepid nation.

Models of rockets developed by each nation in the ensuing technical scrum are shown, the Soviet craft always out-muscling the American designs until the final moon rocket was built.

Scientific, social upheaval
“Apollo” tracks the political foundation of the lunar program, too, capturing President John F. Kennedy’s address where he announces that the United States chooses to go to the moon, appropriately on a 1960s-era TV. Side exhibits provide perspective about two of the other definitive events of the decade — the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war.

In an alcove, you are surrounded with scenes from the countdown at Kennedy Space Center during the launch of the immense Saturn V, which hurled astronauts to lunar orbit. When its engines ignite, the bass vibrates so deeply you can feel the throbbing firestorm lifting the rocket.

Unexpected engineering artifacts are shown, like the original plaster hand casts made of the pioneer Apollo 11 crew. Glove-makers wanted models to use while hand-making pressure gloves for the astronauts.
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So fine are the casts that you can see the rills of astronauts’ fingerprints. Michael Collins wore his wedding ring for the casting, so he had to wear the ring when gloved in flight to ensure a perfect fit.

Another item, an old Apollo spacesuit, bruised by wear, was a carefully tailored life-support garment. It features 21 materials in 24 layers that would reject heat and radiation while protecting against tears or abrasions. It pays to dress for success, especially in space where everything is out to kill you.

Apollo 13 reminders
Remember the drama of Apollo 13, where an on-board explosion aborted the moon mission and led to days of frantic, suspenseful innovation to save the crew? In “Apollo,” you can see a lithium hydroxide canister like the one astronauts had to jury-rig into a fresh-air source.

In a contrast of technological eras, there’s a fragment of one of the main engines from Apollo 13 that was jettisoned into the Atlantic Ocean after launch in 1970. It was plucked from the sea floor by an expedition begun 42 years later by entrepreneur Jeff Bezos.

And there is a model of the lunar rover, sort of a cross between a jalopy and a golf cart, used on Apollo 15 to inspect the neighborhood. It’s not street legal — no seat belts, for one thing — but you can climb aboard and pretend to take it for a spin.

Moon carpet rocks
Feel no guilt if the one thing that underwhelms you is the rarest of gems — a moon rock. “Apollo’s” specimen is a wee slice that looks and feels, well, remarkably ho-hum rockish.

It wasn’t even snared by astronauts but instead got knocked off the moon by a crashing meteor and fell to Earth. It was found in northwest Africa in 2014, and we know it’s a piece of moon by mineral analysis.

So skip the moon-rock line. Dart over to the moon carpet. Every step you take leaves behind the prints of space boots.

“It seems cheesy,” said Heather Norton, Discovery Place’s chief science officer. “But it brings out the kid in everybody.”

“Apollo” is sponsored by Honeywell, a major aerospace contractor that recently moved its headquarters to Charlotte. Adult nights are being planned, including one in November with a screening of “The Martian” and a talk afterward about the realistic science shown in the movie.

Norton says “Apollo” spurs exchanges among generations about memories of space exploration, and leaves the visitor inspired for what’s next— the Artemis program, building a moon base as a springboard to distant destinations.

“It’s a great time to have these conversations, looking at the past and the future,” Norton said.

Apollo: When We Went to the Moon
Where: Discovery Place Science, 301 N. Tryon St.
When: through Jan. 2. Open Friday-Monday, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Details: Find more Information and online reservations at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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