A Visit to the Space Centre
This summer my children have been busy visiting lakes, berry picking farms, making sand castles, hosting picnics, swimming and doing art in the parks. With the two bundles of energy, activity and endless questions that are our kids, our staycation has been one long adventure. One last outing before school starts was our visit to the H. R. MacMillan Space Centre.
This magnificent saucer shaped building in Kitsilano’s Vanier Park is the oft pictured iconic face of Vancouver. The space centre first opened its doors 50 years ago in 1968. It offers curious young minds a good educational and exciting tour for an experience ‘like no place on earth’!
We started ours with the live demonstrations at the GroundStation Canada Theatre. The show we picked was called ‘Rocket Lab’ where a young scientist-student literally experimented with rocket science and even invited young children to volunteer for the experience. “She demonstrated how rockets are propelled upwards by firing hot exhaust gas downward describing Newton’s third law of action and reaction.
If you flew in a rocket to Seattle you would arrive in just a few seconds!” she explained. The simplicity of physics and the secrets of chemistry invariably drew in the breath of the crowd there was a loud bang and the bottle rocket burst forward albeit in a controlled environment. Some of the other shows in that theatre such as Planet Hunters, Avoiding Asteroids and Cosmic Glue all sounded very intriguing too. But we had our next adventure lined up at the domed planetarium star theatre.
Before that there was just enough time to check out the exhibits in the main Hall and to pose behind the space suit for a quick photo. Priyanka and her family had driven from Surrey to the Space Centre and she was keen to find more fun ways to introduce science to her children, “I would be glad if a science centre opened up in Surrey City… we have so many wonderful avenues to promote arts and culture to children. I would support a science festival too”.
Among the exhibits we tried some weight lifting with a small but crushingly heavy rock that came from a meteorite and then touched a moon rock that was apparently billions of years old. The J-2 rocket engine generated a lot of excitement although we felt that this little tour of the ‘cosmic courtyard’ was over a little too soon.
The Planetarium Star Theatre invites you to lie back and experience our universe. It was a fantastic movie unfolding the story of the universe over billions of years with live commentary. A vast moving expanse of stars, galaxies, solar systems and constellations filled our skies; not even some crickets to break the pin drop pitch dark silence although the old man sitting right behind me did chip in with his steady snores. My artistic daughter was fascinated by the Milky Way and the shapes of constellations like the Orion.
Our little space explorer couldn’t get enough of the pizza moon of ‘jumpiter’ and he learned a beautiful new word called ‘Nebula’. We learnt some other very important facts too. It turns out the hottest planet in our solar system is Venus…”so that explains why you get so hot headed with my children sometimes…”my partner couldn’t resist that one! We were shown how to locate the planets from where we are in Vancouver and that somehow completed the circle for most of us.
I was reminded of an inspirational and wonderful article by Chris Hadfield in which he wrote, ‘While I was on the space station, I used Twitter to ask hundreds of thousands of people what they would like me to take a picture of. Resoundingly, the answer was “home.” Everyone, from all around the world, wanted to see their hometowns. I found that thought-provoking. After millennia of wandering and settling, we are still most curious about how we fit in and how our community looks in the context of the rest of the world. A curiosity of self-awareness, now answerable by technology.
…People across the planet need to see and internalize an accurate global vision of place and individual accountability—to recognize the problems that face us all and the technologies that exist to combat them. Our young people need to be able to look up, to look beyond the horizons of their forebears, and see the wisdom and opportunity that comes from a more universal sense of responsibility… I often thought, while silently gazing out the window at Earth, that the actual legacy of humanity’s attempts to step into space will be a better understanding of our current planet and how to take care of it. It is not a perfect world, but it is ours. Sometimes you have to leave home to truly see it.’
Our little visit to the Space Centre was in some ways an eye opener too. The knowledge we had all gained about our marvellous and infinite universe put us in a sombre mood… even the two tiny miniscule specs that were our children fell silent.. at least for a few seconds before all their battles and tears and shrieks and laughter erupted and we started the same daily cycle all over again.
When we all trooped back to the car it was clear even my three year old had grasped the key concepts quite clearly as he happily hummed to himself..’zoom zoom zoom we are going to the moon in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and…blast off’!