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"Mission Moon" touches down at Adler Planetarium

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Written by
Zach Long
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Every guest who walks into the main entrance of the Adler Planetarium is greeted by a large statue of Gemini and Apollo astronaut Captain James Lovell, an iconic figure in the history of manned space flight. Lovell's experience as an astronaut provides the framing device for the planetarium's latest permanent exhibit, "Mission Moon," an updated version of the long-running "Shoot for the Moon" exhibit. "Mission Moon" opens to the public on April 11, but earlier this week we got to walk through the exhibit accompanied by Captain Lovell.

"Mission Moon" begins by exploring Lovell's early life, from building a wooden rocket with his childhood friends to his graduation from Naval Academy and subsequent rejection from the space program after a failed physical. Lovell re-applied and was accepted into the space program in 1962, finally making it into space as an astronaut on the Gemini 7 mission in 1965. Visitors can get a taste of the early days of space travel by entering a recreation of the Gemini program's Mission Control, complete with consoles that feature archival audio from various Gemini missions. The only thing missing is the thick haze of cigarette smoke that would have filled the room in the '60s.

Photo: Hallie Duesenberg

The centerpiece of the exhibition is the Gemini 12 capsule in which Lovell and Buzz Aldrin orbited the Earth for four days. A raised platform built around the capsule allows visitors to look inside, revealing just how tiny and cramped the vehicle was. Adjacent to the capsule is a collection of artifacts that were used on the Gemini 12 mission, including a flight plan and an unused "fecal collection bag." Yes, astronauts traveling through space together got to watch each other defecate into plastic bags.

From there, the exhibit sets its gaze on the Apollo missions, which were dedicated to achieving John F. Kannedy's goal of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." Guests can strike their best Buzz Aldrin pose and take a photo with a stiff American flag against a backdrop of stars or flip switches in a simulation of the troubleshooting procedures that Apollo 13 astronauts had to complete to make a safe return to Earth. On display is a variety of Lovell's Apollo memorabilia, including the Apollo 13 command module malfunction manual (missing it's cover, which was used to construct a makeshift air filter.)

Photo: Hallie Duesenberg

Lovell retired from NASA in 1973, but he contributed to early designs of the space shuttle before hanging up his hat for good. The end of the exhibit focuses on the advances that were made possible because of early space pioneers like Lovell, including numerous shuttle missions and the construction of the International Space Station. Guests can get a taste of space by exploring the surface of the moon via the interactive "Moon Wall" or by admiring a piece of moon rock preserved in a glass pyramid.

"Mission Moon" serves a blast from the past and a reminder of a time when our nation was united in a common goal to facilitate exploration of the final frontier. For those who lived through the space race, the exhibit is a touching remembrance of exciting and tumultuous times. For those too young to remember America's first big reach for the stars, it's an engaging history lesson and a reminder of just how much humankind has yet to explore.

Photo: Hallie Duesenberg

Photo: Hallie Duesenberg

Photo: Hallie Duesenberg

Photo: Hallie Duesenberg

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