Students cut out paper fins and attached them to their snow-cone cup rockets. A boy taped one side of a paper triangle over a hole he cut out to catch air, which he hoped would send the rocket farther than last time. A girl beside him cut several holes in her rocket. Second-graders from Glenrock’s Grant Elementary School compared strategies for paper rockets and took turns launching them recently at the Science Zone’s latest exhibition.
“Mission Aerospace” is timed for the eclipse and gives visitors of all ages opportunities to immerse themselves in the history of flight, navigation and NASA exploration, according to information at the museum. The exhibition is on loan from Minotaur Mazes through August and features a walk-in maze and more activities. Several other interactive displays in a new “Space Room” at the museum demonstrate how eclipses happen.
“With this exhibit we tried to make sure we had something a bit tied into NASA, space and to the eclipse,” Science Zone Executive Director Steven Schnell said.
“We figured right now it makes sense to focus on what’s happening with the eclipse, because it’s getting national attention and we want to make sure people are educated, aware and are kind of prepared for what’s going to happen.”
The students spun a wheel and watched a dial display air pressure. With the touch of a button, the rockets took off.
“I hit Venus!” a boy said and raised his arms in victory.
The paper airplanes and rocket launch activities were hits with many of the kids, including Riley Messer. Her best rocket was one she cut holes into.
“I punched holes in it, so that air would go through and make it fly by the wings,” Riley said.
Students also wound through a maze in the new exhibit filled with information about aeronautics. Visitors can spin a wheel outside the maze for a question and then hunt for the answer in puzzle-piece displays inside.
The exhibit also features a runway where visitors’ paper airplanes can take off for cities from Paris to Rio de Janeiro.
The Science Zone is one of the first three museums around the country to debut the “Mission Aerospace,” and some of its pieces have never before been displayed. The Casper museum even provided some ideas for developers at Minotaur Mazes, which was creating the exhibit when Schnell contacted them looking for ways to explain and celebrate the eclipse, he said.
It was the Science Zone staff’s idea, for example, to use a hand crank for students to create their own air pressure. They can watch the crank and pistons working through clear Plexiglass, Schnell said. The Science Zone also contributed the idea for a sloped launching range so students can quickly grab their rockets and tweak them for another test.
Three displays also glow and light up in the new “Space Room.”
Science Zone Director of Education Leah Ritz designed and helped build a full-body display called “Revolution versus Rotation.” The display puts visitors in the perspective of the moon moving around the Earth as they walk around a gazing ball.
Another exhibit, which the museum commissioned, shows models of the Earth, moon and sun. A button spins the moon around the Earth, and visitors also can find out about moon rise and set times as well as why you can sometimes see the moon in the middle of the day.
“There’s a lot of information packed into it,” Schnell said, “but what’s nice is you can focus on one specific thing at a time.”
Casper College built another exhibit Ritz designed, with moons atop dowels so people can create their own miniature eclipses.
“It really showcases why we don’t get an eclipse every month, because the orbit of the moon and the Earth is not always the same,” Schnell said.
More exhibits are on the way in the coming weeks including a “moon bike” — a chair that positions the rider as the Earth to see different moon phases, Schnell said.
“I’m very excited to be able to add additional things to this, up until basically the eclipse,” he added.
The exhibits are designed for people of all ages.
“There’s opportunity for just gross motor skill development, in the fact that it’s a maze, all the way up through learning how to plot a navigational course for airplanes and learning about gyroscopes,” Schnell said. “Even adults can learn things from it, or at the very least, if they know everything, they can have fun in the maze.”