Museum’s new aerospace exhibits are a blast

Jun. 13, 2013 @ 06:16 PM

If you’ve never built a rocket or seen something hover in midair, you’re in for a treat at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham.

Starting Saturday, visitors can design their own rockets, make and launch paper airplanes and see an object ride an air current above a hover table. They can also test everyday materials in winds tubes and watch them shoot out the top.
It promises to be a blast.
The grand opening of the museum’s Launch Lab is set for Saturday (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and continues all summer and beyond.
The lab is part of the museum’s popular Aerospace Exhibit, which includes displays on loan from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and NASA Langley Research Center, showcasing real space artifacts from the Apollo era.
Twelve new stations with dozens of activities let visitors use common materials in unexpected ways to design and test their own flying creations and explore the principles of flight, gravity and airflow, according to Leslie Pepple, the museum’s communications manager.
Museum employees were busy Thursday testing the new exhibits, including two hover tables. They watched with fascination as wind carried a paper cupcake holder from the table to the ceiling 15 feet above. The paper spun violently in midair and descended.
“The main purpose of the hover tables is to illustrate the principles of force, lift and drag,” Elizabeth Fleming, exhibit development manager, said.
Another interactive exhibit that’s expected to stir the imagination is the new rocket launcher station. Visitors can design a rocket and see how their decisions on fin and rudder placement affect its path as it blasts off using only compressed air.
Twenty-five feet above the station is a parachute on the ceiling that rocket designers can aim for. Or perhaps the rocket spirals sideways and lands in another part of the museum.
That’s OK. In fact, museum employees want people to approach the exhibit with creativity and an open mind.
“What’s great about this is that it’s just wide open for experimentation, so if you’re able to make a rocket fly sideways, then more power to you,” Fleming said.
The rockets are made of foam and use only compressed air, so they’re safe, she said.
Another interactive exhibit is a mechanical airplane launcher, allowing visitors to take their paper plane to new heights as they try different folding techniques.
Five wind tubes will also be on display. Visitors can test everyday materials and watch as their creations shoot out of the top, or perhaps just drift and spin.
In addition to the Launch Lab’s new interactive stations, the museum’s Aerospace Exhibit features a moon rock and meteorite, and a satellite mapping table where visitors can spot familiar landmarks across the United States. There will be a command module for imaginary play and the opportunity to test your ability to dock a satellite.
Pepple said the exhibits bring to life the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum being taught across the nation.
“It really takes it off the page and allows you to engineer and give flight to it,” she said.
Fleming agreed.
“They may learn something about one of [Isaac] Newton’s principles in class, and then recognize it in one of these exhibits,” she said. “But it’s open for even the youngest kid who doesn’t understand what’s happening – to be awed and engaged by it.”

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WANT TO GO?

The museum is at 433 Murray Ave. off Duke Street in Durham. For information, call 919-220-5429.