Traveling Space Museum Brings the Adventure to Earth

While writing this piece I'm watching the TV game show "Street Smarts." A teenage contestant is asked: "What vehicle has an ejection seat?" The contestant answers: "a Mercedes-Benz."

As a space educator in Los Angeles, I'm not too surprised at the answer. Since space and technology are courses not covered in schools to any extent, young people are usually ignorant or blase about the subjects. That is, except back in 2003.

The usually flat-line of space interest suddenly spiked in 2003 when Lance Bass announced his intention to go into orbit and kids who only talked about music were talking about space tourism. Dr. Maureen Clemmons and I sought to exploit this flash of interest before it fizzled out forever. We quickly found a local 16 year-old who wanted to be the First Teenager in Space.

By age 17, Eagle Scout Justin Houchin of Sunland, CA would become the youngest person ever to fly a military jet at the prestigious National Test Pilot School in Mojave Ca. He became the subject of national magazines like Popular Science (Feb., 2004) and Boys Life (May, 2004) and Current Science.

Today, Justin at 18 gives speeches to raise money for flying lessons and to go to Russia for cosmonaut training. We're hoping that Justin can do some training at NASA's Johnson Space Center and that young people will follow his progress and become inspired to learn more about the process. Inspiring young people to think about space is why I created the Traveling Space Museum (TSM).

The TSM brings full-scale simulators into schools. On Space Day, the Traveling Space Museum becomes a space museum on wheels--trucking in ten or more attractions directly to the students for the entire school day. Having a background in theater, I knew that props are effective at keeping kids focused. What I didn't know, when I started back in 1998, is that a rented Mercury spacecraft mock-up in a schoolyard would be such a thrilling experience for the students--and for me.

It inspired me to design simulators like the Odyssey III Mobile SpaceLab that have responsive switches and kid friendly hardware like lap top computers and, DVD players. It even has an ECG heart monitor. The hydraulically actuated Orion CRV is the only flight simulator that's brought to schools for kids to 'fly.' Students liken the 'sims' to theme park attractions but, more importantly, they grasp the relevancy of what they are doing. .

TSM makes a special effort to reach young students often ignored by curriculum specialists who believe that grade school students won't 'get it.' I believe that this is a major mistake. With so many students planning to become professional athletes or winning the lottery, steering them early toward careers in aerospace and technology will actually save their lives! We also believe that there is no wasted knowledge and we've proven that younger students do get it!

In 1997, Ivor Dawson, a space enthusiast with a background in show business becomes director of a space museum set in an LA shopping mall. In 1998, with support from Lockheed-Martin Corp., Dawson creates the Traveling Space Museum with Hollywood prop vehicles donated by Cinema Vehicles Inc In May, 2004, TSM's Space & Aviation Expo sets the LA single day record for the most free airplane rides given to kids