Space buzz

Visiting space, of course, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Today, I did the next best thing -- I met Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell ...

The backdrop was a media preview and news conference to introduce the Adler Planetarium's new permanent exhibit, "Shoot For The Moon." Aldrin and Lovell were there to speak about their space exploration, the things that inspired them to become astronauts and reunite with their Gemini 12 spacecraft, which is displayed in the exhibit.

But even with Lovell and Aldrin swapping stories beside their Gemini 12 spacecraft it’s hard to imagine what life must have been like inside the cramped vehicle during their four days in space for the 1966 mission.

“Actually it looks like there’s a lot more room in here than there really was,” Aldrin told our crowd.

Added Lovell, “This is a good bird. It did its job.”

The fully-restored Gemini 12 spacecraft flown by Lovell and Aldrin is now the centerpiece of “Shoot For The Moon,” a multimedia show that celebrates the Gemini 12 mission and America’s race to the Moon, in addition to Lovell’s perseverance and legacy in the space program.

“The Adler is very proud to share in the important stories of heroes like Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin to help us inspire this next generation of explorers,” Adler President Paul H. Knappenberger said. “We’re delighted that we have the Gemini 12 spacecraft, which is a true national treasure.”

The new exhibit also draws on the Adler’s new endeavor to become the world’s leading space science center.

“I know that I was inspired by going to museums, seeing things and learning more about it,” Lovell said. “I think young people have to have an inspiration and that’s the whole purpose of the ‘Shoot To The Moon’ phases here at the Adler because this is really an educational institution to inspire young people to have very welcoming or rewarding careers.”

The exhibit begins with “A Journey With Jim Lovell,” a display featuring some of Lovell’s personal artifacts and letters to help tell the stories of his initial failures to gain acceptance into the U.S. Naval Academy and NASA astronaut program, as well as his triumphs flying on four space missions and traveling to the moon twice.

In one case is the reply Lovell, as a young boy in Milwaukee, received from American Rocket Society secretary G. Edward Pendroy after Lovell wrote the society saying he wanted to become a rocket engineer. In part, the reply reads, “The best advice I can offer is to get as good an engineering education as possible, with emphasis on thermodynamics, aero dynamics, metallurgy or combustion chemistry.”

Lovell would eventually overcome rejection by the Naval Academy and entered college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the Navy’s Holloway Plan, which allowed him to take flight lessons while pursuing his education.

After two years at the UW in the Navy’s ROTC program, Lovell applied to the Naval Academy again and was accepted. And in 1959, he was one of 34 men invited to a secret meeting to try out for a spot among America’s first astronauts. But Lovell failed his physical exam on a medical technicality and was left to watch from his television as the Mercury 7 were proclaimed America’s first astronauts.

But Lovell’s perseverance eventually paid off. Three years later, in 1962, NASA again called for astronaut candidates and Lovell reapplied. Lovell passed all the tests and was officially an astronaut in training.

Visitors also will see Lovell’s Apollo 13 helmet and gloves, original flight plans and manuals flown on the Gemini 12 mission, the Omega chronograph Lovell wore on Gemini 12, Lovell’s optical sight from Apollo 13 -- which ultimately saved the lives of the Apollo 13 crew -- and the director’s “clapper” used in the film “Apollo 13.”

The exhibit also offers insight into how Lovell and others risked their lives to advance America’s space program.

“We can get 100 percent safety by hauling the shuttle craft back in and locking the doors, but you have to realize that spaceflight like a lot of different professions is a risky business,” Lovell said. “And you have to accept the rewards that you get from it and overcoming the risk that are involved. That’s true for just about any kind of business that you do.”

Beyond the Lovell’s collection and other space artifacts, is a place to discover whether you have what it takes to be an astronaut in “Mission: Moon.”

Visitors can pose as members of an exploration team going back to the Moon in the 21st century. Try a lunar leap, a lunar landing or any of a handful or state-of-the-art exhibit elements that let you experience the thrills and challenges of lunar exploration.

In “Touch Down,” visitors can try their piloting skills and attempt a lunar descent and landing. After a quick briefing, you take the controls of a lunar landing vehicle and try to find a safe landing spot before running out of fuel.

Then in “Lunar Leap,” feel what it’s like to jump on the Moon. In the interactive, a lunar gravity simulation uses an inclined plane outfitted with two slider boards to recreate the sensation of jumping in the 1/6-gravity of the Moon. Adding to the fun, a green-screen video effect shows what the jump would look like on the lunar surface.

Also in the “Lunar Dangers Lab,” visitors meet ALEX -- short for Analyst of Lunar Environmental Extremes -- an animated robot who thinks he’s ready to live on the Moon. As you sit inside the lab, ALEX goes through a series of rigorous tests to see if he can survive the Moon’s temperature extremes and solar radiation. But the fun of the lab lies in the special effects that include brief periods of mist and extreme heat that let you experience the Moon’s environment.

* * *

Afterward, my photog Kevin and I met up with our buddy Patrick at city hall for a lunch rendezvous. But first Patrick -- an incredibly knowledgeable Chicagoan -- gave us a quick history lesson and took us for a peek inside “Chicago's state capitol building,” the stunning James R. Thompson Center ... I hardly knew the building existed and I was in a daze as I stared up at the humongous atrium. Now I can't wait to go back ...

From there, it was on to a popular lunch spot Patrick had recommended -- Perry's deli in The Loop. The popularity of the place was evident the moment we stepped up to the front doors as the line to the counter wrapped around the dining room (about the size of your typical McDonald's) and out the doors. And the other highlight of this place is the fact they don't allow cell phones; if an employee catches you talking on a phone, they sound a loud alarm that humiliates you and has everyone in the place looking at you, the idiot talking on a cell phone. It happened twice while we were there ... HA-larious.

Despite the long line, the pace was speedy and we were placing our orders within minutes. I decided on the Perry's Favorite sandwich -- corned beef, jack cheese, cole slaw, bacon and Russian dressing, all of it piled (and I mean piled) onto an onion roll ...

With sandwiches and drinks in hand, the three of us decided to take in the gorgeous weather and found a picnic table alongside the river. And the sandwich -- well, it just might have been one of the best sandwiches I've ever had ...

No comments: