Over the years, NASA has given Earthbound folks plenty of great photos and videos of life aboard the International Space Station. But as great as it is to watch astronauts floating down corridors, it’s not the same as being there in person. Now, space-lovers can get a taste of what it’s like aboard the ISS in Huntsville, Alabama’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s new exhibit featuring a scale model of several ISS modules.
ISS: Science in Orbit is the Space and Rocket Center’s newest permanent exhibit, and while there’s no microgravity to float about in, it is designed to give people a glimpse at what it’s like to live and work in orbit around the Earth. Visitors can take a turn at running a simulation of operating the space station’s robotic arms or see what Earth looks like from a porthole in low-Earth orbit in a scale replica of the Cupola Observation Module—the part of the station where astronauts often take photos. People can even check out a recreation of a bathroom aboard the ISS, Lee Roop writes for Alabama Live.
Space travel in and of itself is pretty exciting, but astronauts on the ISS don’t just float around singing David Bowie songs all day: they are constantly conducting experiments that range from seeing how water behaves in microgravity to figuring out the best ways to get plants to grow in space.
“Very few people know what kind of science is going on,” Space Center CEO Deborah Barnhart tells Roop. “That's the point of this exhibition, to make sure people understand the benefits of the space station."
Researchers and engineers back on Earth direct and manage all the experimentation, and the new exhibit lets guests wander through their home base, the Payload Operations Center at the Marshall Space Flight Center. While the real Payload Operations Center is just down the road, the mock-up at the Space and Rocket Center lets visitors see what it’s like to sit at the helm, monitoring multiple screens and command consoles to make sure daily operations on the space station all go smoothly, Roop writes.
With tourist trips to the ISS are still a rarity, this could be one of the best chances to see what it’s like aboard the space station. However, independent companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are hope that could change in the next few years. Recently, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that he could take a trip to the ISS aboard one of his company’s Dragon spacecraft within the next five years, Eric Berger reports for Ars Technica. It might be a while before space tourism becomes commonplace, but for now, aspiring astronauts can get a taste of life aboard the ISS right here on Earth.