Facing Mars

Topic: Earth & Space Sciences Subtopic: Astronomy

Case Study

of an Exhibition

by Aylin Doyle

Published on September 09, 2009

  • Description and goals

    Facing Mars is a traveling exhibition that originally opened at Ontario Science Centre in 2008. The exhibition explores the challenges of a possible human voyage to Mars (and to space in general) through engineering, psychological, physiological and scientific experiences.

    The main goal of this exhibition is to present questions/situations where the visitors can explore their own outcome and have a voice.

  • Development process and challenges

    Space is a challenging subject to engage visitors in meaningful ways. Our development goal was exploring the possibilities of making it relevant to visitors and giving them the opportunity to think twice about certain issues related to space exploration. The challenge we took was trying to create a reality through people’s personal experiences and feelings.

    At the entrance of the exhibition the visitors are asked the question “Would You Go to Mars?”. They have to make a decision and enter through the Yes or No gate. Every visitor’s choice is recorded by electronic counters and the totals are displayed for everyone to see. This entry experience was developed to personalize the experience to the visitor before they enter in order to set the expectation for inside experiences. The same question is asked as “Would You Still Go to Mars?” at the exit to give visitors the change to reflect upon their experience in the exhibition.

    Although it is a traveling exhibition we tried to set the tone in a very specific way. The design explored the two edges; the very functional/utilitarian space exploration aesthetic on earth and the abstract space itself.

    Contrasting scales were created to emphasize the massive scale differences in every aspect of space exploration – from the metaphorical scale difference between the capabilities of humans versus their technology, to the scale differences between the actual size of spacecraft and what our perceptions and expectations are.

    The modular metal truss structures present the experiences and create a very functional testing zone feeling. These experiences involve visitors physically. This very man made aesthetic was juxtaposed with two large white inflatable domes. These floating like structures are smooth and white inside to create a very still environment. These domes enclose abstract concepts such as “What is Life” and create an opportunity to reflect.

    Almost all the artifacts displayed in the exhibition are real, there is real food growing (the possible crops which are being explored as options for space travel), real cyanobacteria tank, micro fossils and all the images were taken by the probes.

    During the development the team talked to numerous scientists, ethicists, astronauts, engineers, writers and others whose points of views were so dramatically different from each other about human voyage to Mars. The personal views of some of these people are available for visitors to hear and contemplate.

  • Lessons learned, mistakes we made (and what we did about them)

    We worked on developing several experiences where people can really feel the challenges humans might face. “Walking on Mars” took a lot of testing and engineering assistance to complete, but it ended up being one of the most fun experiences in the exhibition.

    Also, we really wanted to create a “Dust Devil” replica and worked on it for about 2 years. Our team was dealing with the same problems which NASA, ESA and similar organization are still dealing with. It didn’t turn out to be what we hoped to accomplish and it ended up not traveling with the show because of maintenance issues. But neither do others come close to finding ways to deal with dust yet!!

    The other interesting field that we wanted to explore was the psychological aspects of space travel. The known facts are very limited in this area but it was the most interesting part of the picture and most relevant to all of us. The team did a lot of testing of different ideas with visitors but it was very hard to test/present these experiences without the real context. Ended up creating a few experiences on emotional contagion, personal space and confinement.

  • Exhibition Opened: June 2008

  • Traveling Exhibition: Yes

  • Estimated Cost: $1,000,000 to $3,000,000 (US)

  • Size: 5,000 to 10,000 sq ft.

Latest Comments (2)

inflatable domes

by Jeff Crewe - September 11, 2009

The interior of these domes must be spectacular!. Nicely designed! How did the " walking on Mars" work that made it fun?

inflatable domes

by Aylin Doyle - September 11, 2009

Walking on Mars took quite a while to figure out.

First we weigh the visitors (the scale has colours not numbers)then visitors get to wear a body harness. With the help of a tool balancer the system adjusts visitors weight and simulate 1/3rd the gravitational pull like on Mars.

They can run or walk on a padded surface, it gets quite entertaining for the person doing it as well as the people watching.

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