Moving Beyond Earth

Review

of an Exhibition

by Erin Beasley

Published on March 01, 2011, Modified on March 24, 2011

  • Description:

    This review will focus on the interactive technology within the exhibition, “Moving Beyond Earth,” at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington, D.C. This exhibition gives visitors the opportunity to explore human spaceflight and space exploration and includes a variety of engaging interactives that overall successfully reaches audience members on an educational and entertainment level.

    Upon entering the gallery, the first interactive I came across was called “Is Space for You?” The goal of this interactive was to find the ideal space flight job that fit with my personal interests. The interactive presented me with a series of questions pertaining to my interests and at the end, the interactive displayed three jobs believed to fit my profile, ranging from astronaut to dietitian. After choosing which job I liked the most, a digital badge was created with my name, title, and picture, which was taken by a built-in camera. I was then able to e-mail this badge to myself. Unfortunately, I never received the badge. This function has the potential to extend and expand the museum’s educational toolbox from the museum gallery to the home, but it was disappointing not to see the end result. Overall, the content of this interactive was aimed for school children. I witnessed children ages seven and up using the touch screens and reading with ease. There is unfortunately no group accessibility, nor moments for group collaboration. I also think audio or video components could have enhanced the interactive experience and made the station more dynamic. It felt very linear and it would have been wonderful to work with the interactive on a personal level by watching professionals talk about their job and hear their own individual stories.

    The next technological experience within the exhibition was another series of individual interactives called “Flight Director.” This interactive simulates a workstation at Mission Control and placed me as flight director where I was to manage a mission. A team of people on the screen gave me a series of updates by way of text regarding the well-being of the astronauts and their equipment in space. My job was to compile and understand the information given to me by my team and then decide whether or not the astronauts should take particular actions concerning their mission. Educationally, it allows visitors, and again in particular children, to comprehend the real-life scenario of a flight director. Once more though, this interactive was not overly dynamic and I believe more audio and video components could have made it more engaging and personal.

    Probably the most eye-catching interactive was placed in the center of the gallery. The “Space Academy” interactive is a trivia game that asks visitors ten questions regarding the space program and space flight. Fifteen answer stations take the form of a circle, with large screens in the middle showing both questions and answers. The answer stations are simple consoles with four colored buttons to push. This is an especially engaging and entertaining interactive. People collaborated in groups or played as individuals. The game kept track of each person’s answers and at the end the scores were tallied and ranked on the screen. The game lasted six minutes and I hardly saw anyone leave early. The trivia questions were stimulating, sometimes hard, and furthermore, very educational. One drawback is that the stations locked when a game started and therefore people had to wait until the game ended before gaining the opportunity to take part in a game. Additionally, the interactive only allowed 20 seconds before beginning a new game. There are visible signs explaining how the game works and I believe this helped visitors understand the rules. I comprehend that in order to accurately score each game, the interactive cannot have people coming into the game at different times. I do not believe that competition is or should be a necessary component to this game, but I also recognize that competition can hook people’s attention and draw people into the game. Although I see this as a disadvantage, the locked console problem did not hinder too many people, as I saw most visitors just watch the game before them and wait their turn. This is a true sign of a very engaged and stimulated audience.

    The final interactive is “Design It,” a large touch screen table that allowed up to six visitors to build their own module for a digital space station displayed in the middle of the table. Given its attractiveness as a new form of technology, the table was appealing for both school children and adults. I was able to select one module from a series and design and customize it by choosing different equipment. When my module was finished, I saw it whisk away to the space station in the middle.

    Although the technology appeared remarkably sophisticated and appealing, the touch screen was especially frustrating to use and I did not have a pleasant experience. The educational content was very interesting, but I had to touch each of my selections multiple times before they worked properly. Other visitors had similar difficulties with the touch screen and I saw families leave the table altogether in discouragement. When I was in the exhibition, the table was incredibly popular, but I imagine this was initiated by the table’s attractiveness as a different form of technology and by the fact that NASM is always very crowded with visitors. I question if this table can be considered a form of sustainable technology in a museum that entertains such a high volume of visitors on a daily basis.

    In conclusion, “Moving Beyond Earth” excites audience members by providing them with the opportunity to use a variety of technological platforms. Although each form of technology has its individual drawbacks, the exhibition overall successfully creates entertaining and educational interactives that both engages and expands visitors’ knowledge about space exploration.

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