Questacon reopened on Wednesday with a new exhibition that’s out of this world – the Mission to Mars experience.
News of the reopening came as the first new cases of COVID-19 were detected in Canberra in more than 30 days.
The senior manager of learning experiences at Questacon, Anita Beck, told Region Media that life in space is very similar to living in a pandemic where additional precautions are required to stay alive.
“Visitors are taken on a guided tour where they are on a journey to Mars and they get to be the first people to ever land on Mars,” she said.
“People will learn about health in space which, conveniently, is like a pandemic here on Earth. Your immune system reduces and the virulence of bacteria and some viruses can increase, so people get an understanding of how careful you need to be in space.”
Curators of the Mars experience had kept themselves occupied during the COVID-19 lockdown to ensure the new exhibition would be interactive while also being a hands-off experience that adheres to social-distancing restrictions.
“We are only taking 15 people at a time, so it’s like having your own private tour which is very immersive and totally interactive.”
The Mission to Mars launches via a walk up the ramp in the centre of Questacon. As people circle around the gallery, they go into the orbit of Mars and landing on the so-called ‘red planet’.
The various galleries tell stories about life on Mars, the atmosphere there and what would it mean if we were to build a colony on the planet.
“We also look at when astronauts fly to Mars, how they will use all their fuel to get there and then have to mine water and separate it into oxygen and hydrogen and use that as fuel to return,” Ms Beck said.
There had also been a record level of interest from members of the public as to whether Questacon would be reopening during the school holidays.
Pre-bookings are definitely required and Ms Beck said when they opened bookings for the Mission to Mars last week, hits on the Questacon website spiked by 2000 per cent within 24 hours. All bookings during the school holidays were taken within 15 minutes.
“We’ve had a lot of people asking when we were going to come back. We have a wonderful relationship with the ACT community, particularly with primary schools and the early learning centres.
“The Mars experience is recommended for all ages, but after the school holidays we’ll be opening an early learning version specifically for 3 to 5-year-olds who come to us regularly to do their early learning activities,” Ms Beck said.
She also said her daughter was one of the first to visit the Mission to Mars experience last week and gave it a resounding thumbs-up.
The science centre will host up to five sessions per day during school holidays and then move to four sessions per day when school resumes.
Self-guided tours will be unavailable to the public until further notice but the Mission to Mars exhibition will take bookings up until the end of August. It will continue for the foreseeable future.
Ms Beck said it had been amazing to have people back at Questacon after the centre’s website had turned to online learning via its many facts sheets and digital experiments.
“We’ve really missed having people and it was really interesting opening the doors again and seeing the energy of the place return. Everyone is buzzing again and it’s so good to finally have people back in the building.
“You forget how enjoyable the space is until you see five and six-year-olds seeing it for the first time and their eyes are bulging.”
She said they will adjust with the ebb and flow of the return of the COVID-19 virus.
“We’re taking a very cautious approach to the way Questacon has been opened in the past. We’ll move forward and backwards with these restrictions and we wanted to make sure the place is totally safe for our visitors, particularly because we attract people from all over the country,” Ms Beck said.
Bookings for the Mission to Mars experience are essential and available through the Questacon website.