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Buzz and Jim's Interstellar Road Show

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 10, 2006 4:35PM


Forty years after their historic four-day space mission, Capt. James Lovell and Dr. Buzz Aldrin were reunited with the Gemini 12 spacecraft at the Adler Planetarium. Lovell (above, right) remarked that the capsule looks more spacious than it actually is but that it's “a good bird.” Aldrin (left) asked his old friend in jest: “are you ready to fly again?” And they exchanged a look suggesting that's not such a crazy idea.

During the Gemini 12 mission, the duo mastered extravehicular maintenance in a compact vehicle shooting through space at 17,500 miles an hour. The flight captured the world's imagination and set the stage for subsequent Apollo missions that would leave the Earth’s gravitation and explore the Moon.

Although Capt. Lovell and Dr. Aldrin hung up their spacesuits long ago, they continue to enthusiastically advocate a strong national commitment to space exploration. At yesterday morning's press conference, both men expressed the importance of sending astronauts to explore life on Mars. Lovell emphasized that we must plan for manned expeditions rather than simply relying on computers, since no computer can react as well as the human brain to keep a mission going and human ingenuity saved his own life on Apollo 13. In Aldrin's estimation, returning to the moon and Mars requires a commercial/government partnership and a significant commitment of energy and funding by the US government. Russia's private space program will be the only other option, he continued, because the American private sector alone cannot compete.

lunarsurface.JPGCultivating the next generation of moonwalkers is a major focus of Shoot for the Moon, the Adler's newest permanent exhibit which opens to the public Saturday. The display is primarily an interactive experience aimed at kids in third grade and up. At the Discovery Table, we felt a sample of the lexan NASA uses for helmets, a silica sample from a shuttle’s exterior, and mylar and kevlar used in spacesuits. The Lunar Leap has visitors hopping up and down through simulated lunar gravity and projected, for friends’ enjoyment, against a simulated lunar backdrop. You can pilot a craft via the Lunar Lander, then learn which regions are most attractive for future moon landings. And for comic relief, catch a screening of “Lovell's Lunar Danger Report,” a short film about a NASA test robot that can't catch a break.

Moonpaper.JPG“Shoot for the Moon” is the first opportunity for Chicagoans to see Lovell and Aldrin’s fully-restored ‘good bird’ up close and to pore over Capt. Lovell’s personal collection of space artifacts. Here you can imagine our intrepid explorers barreling around the Earth in 86-minute orbits or moving half-gracefully across the lunar surface. This exhibit would feel at home at the Kennedy Space Center or the National Air and Space Museum and the Adler regards it as a major step towards becoming the world's leading space center, a vision almost as ambitious as our esteemed visitors’ hope that our children or children's children will enjoy an extended stay on Mars.

Shoot for the Moon opens at the Adler Planetarium on Saturday, November 11. In honor of Veterans Day, opening day admission for veterans and active military is free. Regular admission ranges from $13-20. More information at

Photos by the author.