Star Walker

I've now left the beautiful country of New Zealand and hopped over the Tasman Sea to its neighbour, Australia. I'm staying south of Brisbane and I recently visited the Spacewalker attraction based in Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast.

The main entrance is at street level along with a space themed shop. This sells all the usual space related toys and trinkets, but you can also pick up a copy of great astronomy magazines such as Australian Sky and Telescope or Sky and Space (which features Ian no less). Once you've bought your rather expensive ticket (almost AUSD 30 although family tickets are available too), you enter Space Station Zeta via a space elevator. The elevator comes complete with 'hand print recognition' (a large button), lots of LED lights in the walls acting as stars and a turning base to disorientate you slightly on your journey up to the space station. Once in the space station you are greeted by the arrivals lounge staff who wear futuristic outfits; well futuristic as imagined in the 1970s or 80s with silver clothing and metallic wigs. They enter into the spirit of the space theme and seemed to be having fun with the visitors.

After check-in, you get to enter one of three 'pods' which are basically three different pre-recorded shows. I had been dreading a 'dumbed down' space themed show, so was pleasantly surprised by the amount of astronomical information that they contained. I saw two of the shows (the kind staff let me go around twice) and they were excellent. The first was about the moons of the solar system and was narrated by John Lithgow of Third Rock From The Sun. This contained masses of correct information, real images and computer graphics to give you a tour of some of the more interesting moons. It was remarkably up-to-date compared to some information you can get in science museums - the trouble with all these exciting new space missions - although the show was missing information from the wonderful work that Cassini and Huygens have done at Saturn's moons.

The second show was in a room with a soft floor that you lay on looking up at an alien spaceship styled viewscreen in the ceiling. The 'alien contact' theme was the basis for a tour of the universe with a Powers of Ten style video starting on the beach at Surfers Paradise and moving out through the solar system, our galaxy, the local group and to the full extent of the observable universe. It was quite nice to see this done from an Australian perspective.

After leaving the pods, you travel down the Space Highway which is very well done. The entire room that the highway occupies is black with just the path and various models lit up. It does a good job of making the models look as if they are in space as I could only see how most were suspended by using averted vision. Each model is also accompanied by video viewers in the style of beach-side binoculars, but with the addition of headphones to hear the commentary. The models and videos were of high quality and put across a lot of information about each astronomical object. The model of the Moon is apparently one of the most detailed in existence and was created by the museum founder - a keen astronomer.

Most science museums will only go as far as detailing just the planets, so I was happy to see that about half the space walk covered other astronomical objects such as red giant stars, pulsars, nebula, galaxies and more. I reckon that the 3D model of the Pillars of Creation was made from UV reactive spray paint on cotton wool with imbedded LED lights to act as newly forming stars; it worked really well.

On exiting the space walk (via a black hole or hyper space) you can buy the standard fairground style photos and visit the Voyager Bar in the 'Restaurant at the End of the Universe'. Although the menu has cheesy space named meals (compulsory for a space attraction), these have actually been designed to look pretty bizarre too.

Overall it was an extremely well presented attraction that had loads of good science in it. The only downsides are that it relys on lots of (admittedly very good) videos and pictures - making it a bit passive for the visitor - and it was a touch expensive for me. These aside, it is a good way to spend a wet afternoon in Surfers Paradise.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 14th Mar 2006 (03:17 UTC) | Permalink
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