Grade 6 students from Forest Manor Public School pose with a full-size model of the Mars rover Curiosity, at the Ontario Science Centre's new exhibition, "Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration," running until Jan. 1.

New Ontario Science Centre exhibit is out of this world

The Ontario Science Centre has imported an out-of-this-world experience with its new space exploration exhibit: “Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration.”

The science centre on Don Mills Road is the exhibit’s first stop outside the U.S., ahead of a world tour.

“This is the first time it’s shown outside New York. The Ontario Science Centre wanted the exhibition very early on and it was simply a situation of: first-come, first-served,” said Michael Shara, the curator of “Beyond Planet Earth” at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, where the exhibit was created.

The star of the show is the Mars rover, Curiosity. As the real NASA rover is currently busy exploring the surface of the Red Planet some 230 million km away, visitors to the science centre can get up and personal with a full-size model.

Curiosity is flanked by many other intriguing artifacts of manned and unmanned space exploration from the past and present. But the inclusion of displays about potential future projects such as Moon bases, space elevators or “terraforming” for the purpose of planetary colonization mark a departure from conventional exhibit philosophy.

“It is very intentional that we look 50 years into the future. Other fabulous museums around the world look backwards. I didn’t want to do that. It was not my intent to compete with them, but I rather wanted to fire the imagination of young people,” said Shara. “I am talking about things that have not yet been accomplished, but things that we can and should do over the next 50 years.”

Shara attended a media preview of the Toronto exhibition on Oct. 2, and emphasized that while it appears to blur the boundaries between science and science fiction, even the futurism is realistic.

“It is certainly different from other exhibitions, but none of this is science fiction in the sense that we need to invent new technologies or even new materials to do it,” said Shara.

The new approach seems to work, and the exhibition was a hit with some schoolchildren who got to participate in the preview.

“The kids are really interested in this stuff,” said exhibit host Kelly Robins. “I saw a lot of kids today who wanted to know about life in space and what that would be like. This exhibit truly allows the imagination to wander.”

The new approach of embracing the future may have a lasting impact on other exhibits at the Ontario Science Centre as well, according to its chief science officer, Dr. Hooley McLaughlin.

“I wonder whether this is an approach we can take with other subjects, such as the environment. This exhibit really makes us think a bit and could be a great learning opportunity,” said McLaughlin.

The exhibit runs in Toronto until Jan. 1, and then moves to Haifa, Israel.