Sure the astronaut’s spacesuit is cool. So are the gloves and the freeze-dried food that is the diet in outer space.
But what’s already received the most attention at the Putnam Museum’s new exhibit, “Destination: Space,” involves a tennis ball and a bowling ball.
Visitors can raise a bowling ball in a tube via an exterior rope and subsequently see a tennis ball in a neighboring tube shoot into the air.
“This is an example of propulsion,” Putnam president and CEO Kim Findlay said. “How air pushes the energy rate (that’s stored in) this bowling ball shoots the tennis ball off.”
It got a thumbs-up from Kayla White, a sixth-grader at Smart Intermediate School in Davenport.
“It’s really cool,” she said.
“That’s the very, very cool thing,” agreed Nichole Myles, the Putnam’s vice president for education. “You’re not going to get to see that just anywhere.”
The exhibit was produced by the Putnam education staff, with space items on loan from the Kansas Cosmophere and Space Center, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum in Hutchinson, Kan.
Of the 170,000 items the Putnam has in its permanent collection, there’s nothing representing outer space.
“We were creative with a lot of our resources on that,” Myles said. “It’s a lot of fun when you can put the pieces together and come up with something really unique.”
Besides the propulsion demonstration, Kayla was impressed with the meals eaten in space.
“They had astronaut foods and stuff,” she said. “They had weird food. It looked like it was all shaped in blocks.”
The exhibit is a result of landing a video conference call with astronauts from the International Space Station, which took place Friday. Museums had to state what related programming they would pursue as part of the arrangement, Myles said.
There are other interactive items in the exhibit, which, Findlay said, is a sign of more to come.
“Teachers have told us for a long time that when we can have hands-on, giant-screen exhibits with real artifacts, that’s the best environment for kids to get excited about learning,” she added.
It’s also an advance look at the Putnam’s programming for Science, Technology, Education and Math, or STEM, in the future. Findlay said construction will begin in October on reshaping part of the museum into a STEM learning center. That process has a target date for completion in April 2014.