Back in 1980, Sir Patrick Moore visited my school The Sir William Herschel Grammar School (named after the astronomer who discovered Uranus) and gave a talk about the future of space exploration. He predicted that by the year 2000 man would be living on the moon in lunar colonies. This prediction hasn't quite come to fruition, but the interest Patrick Moore ignited in me has never waned.
Yesterday, Ian and I were invited to the Space Centre in Leicester, along with Megan, Ella, Kizzy and Freddy, to watch the premiere of the brand new Planetarium film, Back to the Moon for Good. My eldest son Joe was also attending with his blogging fiancee Jade and my baby grandson Ted. It was a great opportunity to have the family together and enjoy an amazing day out!
The Space Centre is centred around a huge 42m high, space age bubble like construction which we spotted from afar as we arrived for our VIP day. We were treated to coffee and pastries and were warmly greeted by Neil the General Manager. We headed off into the Space Centre to enjoy the facilities and were very impressed with the different zones that we got to explore. Orbiting Earth, Exploring the Universe, Into Space, Space Now, The Rocket Tower, Tranquility Base and The Planets are the seven themed, interactive areas. They feature interactive activities, scientific artefacts, displays and challenges. I loved how hands on everything was and enjoyed watching the kids being able to crawl through a black hole, dress up like a star, read a futuristic news report, experience what it's like to be in a Russian spacecraft and transport themselves back to the 1969 moon landing (the year I was born!)
The Space Centre has so many facts and figures about the planets, the space race and the universe, all presented in a fun way aimed to entertain as well as educate. There are films, computer screens and simulators to bring the information to life, as well as some fantastic memorabilia on display.
I loved the Rocket Tower. The glass lift took us up to the three floors of the tower where we were free to explore the exhibits. From the early pioneers of space flights to the iconic sixties moon landing, there was so much to take in. A display of things that were going on at the same time as the space exploration, in the world of sport, fashion, politics and music, was really interesting. A showing of the world's first Sci-Fi movie was a curious thing to watch! We saw genuine moon rock brought back to earth by Apollo astronauts and the little ones got to experience what it was like being in a space capsule while we talked to them via a control panel in a different room. I may have sung Ground Control to Major Tom through the microphone.
As it was half term, there were some special activities for the children to get involved in including Spooky Science shows and Halloween art activities. The kids made origami bats, Halloween glasses, finger puppets and a spooky spider. Freddy really enjoyed himself. There are also opportunities to dress up as a scientist, a star, an alien or a spaceman, which make for perfect photo opportunities.
Freddy also got to find out what it was like to jump on the moon, he helped mine for moon rock and manoeuvered a micro G space chair. You can save your progress by scanning the bar code on your entry ticket as you enjoy the activities in the Tranquility Base which are designed to test your limits and see if you have what it takes to be an astronaut.
One of the best interactive exhibits was the pod where you could do a weather forecast using green screen technology. After it is filmed the video is shown on screens for everyone to see. My girls and Freddy had a go at being reporters and here is the result.
We were treated to a buffet lunch and some gourmet Joe & Seph's popcorn before heading to the main event.
The main focus for our day was the premiere of the new film showing in The Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium. Back to the Moon for Good is the brand new fulldome film about the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, created by the NSC Creative team. Narrated by Tim Allen, the voice of Buzz Lightyear, it presents the fascinating story of teams competing to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon to win the big prize. It explores the history of lunar exploration and looks at a vision of humanity's future on the moon.
It has been over 40 years since Neil Armstrong made his "one giant leap for mankind" and stepped onto the moon's surface. The Google Lunar XPRIZE competition hopes to reignite man's interest in space travel and pave the way to our future exploration of the universe. It hopes to challenge and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop innovative and low cost methods of robotic space exploration.
Watching the film on the huge domed planetarium screen was breathtaking. It felt like you were actually in space, whizzing around the lunar landscape. If I'm completely honest, as someone who is very motion sensitive, some of the effects made me cover my eyes to prevent me from feeling a bit space sick. The feeling of movement was incredibly realistic and the experience was fully engaging and immersive.
After the film finished we were invited to a Q & A with the film makers, the Google Lunar XPRIZE team and a member of the German team competing in the challenge. We discovered that there is no UK team competing as such, but British technology is being used and some scientists from the Isle of Man have merged with an American team, giving us some representation in this exciting space race. We also found out that the first rover robot may be landing on the moon and beaming back video footage as early as 2015! I'll be looking out for updates on this mission to see the progress of the thirty teams attempting to get to the moon and drive a robotic rover for 500 metres on the moon's surface. It is exciting stuff!
The National Space Centre really is an out of this world day out for families with an interest in space. You can find out more on the website: www.spacecentre.co.uk.