Destination: Mars

More than two dozen simulations in Facing Mars, a new exhibit at the Pacific Science Center, give visitors an idea of what it would be like to make the three-year round trip to the red planet.

Are we there yet? Isolation, monotony, boredom. How will it feel to be away for months or years from all you have ever known?

People can step into the confinement chamber and begin to experience the isolation and boredom astronauts would experience on the trip. The Mars Walk simulates what it would be like to walk on the surface of Mars. At the Bring Mars to Life station, visitors can create a stop-motion animation of their vision of pioneer life in a Martian colony.

Facing Mars covers 6,000 square feet of the center – about the size of the Lucy archaeology exhibit – with features developed and created by the Ontario Science Centre.

“It’s mostly what it’s like to get there, from an astronaut’s viewpoint,” said the center’s Wendy Malloy. “It’s learning, hands on interactive, math and science, making it fun.”

The Mars Walk station has been one of the most popular since the exhibit opened Jan. 30. Visitors, who have to be at least 80 pounds, wear a harness attached to a counterweight.

“It feels like you’re walking on Mars. It’s almost like being weightless, but you still have to walk, it’s more like gliding,” Malloy said.

Another popular feature has been the Whirl Chair.

“It’s like the Disneyland tea pots, in that you spin around. But you have to do puzzles while in the chair – there is a number puzzle they have you work on (after 30 seconds of spinning). They say it’s a simple puzzle, but I don’t know about that,” Malloy said with a laugh.

Other parts of the exhibit look at the dynamics of choosing a crew of astronauts who have the right combination of skills, gender, personalities and ages to be effective. It offers the chance to design, test and launch your own rocket and shows what happens when your rocket is out of balance. You get a bird’s-eye view of the planet as you “fly” over the surface using some of the highest-resolution images available.

The concept of the exhibit, Malloy said, is to get visitors to understand the physical, human and ethical challenges of a space flight to Mars.

“When you walk in, you’re asked if you want to journey to Mars. When you leave, they ask you the same thing after you’ve been through the whole exhibit,” Malloy said.

Given the scientific level of the exhibit, Malloy said it is best for kids 7 years and older.

And if the exhibit doesn’t pique your curiosity, look to the sky on a clear night.

Mars has been shining brightly since it reached opposition to the sun Jan. 29.

When at opposition, the planet rises at sunset, appears nearly overhead around midnight, and sets as the sun comes up. During this time, Mars shines brighter than any other object in the sky except for Sirius, which lies well to Mars’ right, and Jupiter, which sets in the west not long after Mars appears.

Although the time for peak brightness has passed, Mars is still worth a look. Mars rises in the east-northeast sky and arcs across to the southwest. You can find it about halfway between the constellations Big Dipper and Orion.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640