If you would like to see a real "moon rock" up close, touch a piece of Mars, or take a spin on a space bike, visit the newest exhibition in the Visitors Center at The University of Texas-Pan American - "Space: A Journey to Our Future."
Produced by Evergreen Exhibitions and presented in collaboration with NASA, the exhibition will officially open to the public on Sept. 27 and run through Jan. 10, 2010. The exhibition is free and open to the public and schools are invited to schedule a tour.
The exhibition was created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. where it was first on display and viewed by four million visitors.
Highlights of the 2,000-square-foot exhibition here include actual rocks from the lunar surface and the red planet Mars and a centrifuge, powered like a bicycle that visitors can take a spin on to experience the physiological challenges of a long space flight. A large number of interactive displays allow visitors - young and old - to learn what they would weigh on Mars and the moon and to design a new spacecraft to travel in the future. Five different telescope set-ups provide an opportunity to discover the nature of light and one computer interactive lets you determine what to pack for a trip to Mars.
At the exhibition's opening ceremony held Sept. 24, UTPA Vice President for Business Affairs James Langabeer said the goal of the exhibits, featured at the Visitors Center since fall 2003, is to get people - students and community members - on the campus to see what UTPA has to offer. He said the last major exhibition in fall 2008 - "A T. Rex Named Sue" - drew more than 50,000 visitors in its three month stay on campus. UTPA is the only university in Texas and one of approximately 10 in the country that supports exhibits as a means of recruitment and making young people aware of higher education opportunities.
"We encourage area teachers to incorporate a visit to the exhibit into their lesson plans so that K-12 students from the Rio Grande valley will visit the campus to learn about the exhibit and also find out about becoming a UTPA Bronc one day," she said.
National sponsors for the exhibit, which costs more than $100,000 to lease, ship and market, are General Motors, Lockheed Martin, and NASA. Funding locally came from UTPA with support from the Rio Grande Valley McDonald's owners/operators and UTPA GEAR UP.
Krystal Muñoz, a senior education major from Weslaco, dropped by the exhibit with her three-year-old daughter Kaylee, who, when asked, was able to point out an astronaut on one of the many displays. Muñoz said it was a great opportunity get to see NASA's space-related items first-hand rather than just reading about it in books.
"I'm majoring in education, so I know how important it is for the children to come and see this. It was fun and exciting," she said.
The exhibit showing times will be Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
Guided tours are available for schools and large groups by appointment. Families visiting the exhibit do not need an appointment. To request a tour visit http://www.utpa.edu and click on the Take the Journey exhibit icon. For additional information on the exhibit, call 956/292-7338.