To Boldly Go… to the Arizona Science Center

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A couple of weeks ago, my kids and I took a field trip to the Arizona Science Center, the science museum in Phoenix. I’d been wanting to go check out the museum for some time, but the thing that finally pushed me to take the kids is the current Star Trek exhibit. It isn’t as nice or as sophisticated as Star Trek: The Experience seemed to be, but it was still very interesting.

As with all special exhibits at the Arizona Science Center, you need a special ticket over and above the museum admission price. The museum recommended allowing at least an hour for the Star Trek exhibit, since you weren’t allowed back in once you left. This was good advice; it took us more than an hour to peruse the displays, and I could have gone through much more slowly. Also, no photography was allowed in the exhibit.

We headed straight for the Star Trek exhibit after lunch. I wasn’t sure how patient my kids would be with me reading all the placards and seeing everything, so full stomachs were helpful. My kids have some familiarity with Star Trek already, having seen a few episodes of the original series, but I definitely have neglected my geek parenting duties privileges of showing them more episodes of all the series, plus the movies.

The whole place was filled with costumes, props, pictures and sets from the Star Trek universe. There were many Kirk costumes, a good variety from Star Trek: The Next Generation, several from the various movies and quite a few others from the original series. I was very surprised by the appearance of the costumes. On screen, they look very nice and of high quality. In real life, they look as if made from cheap material. The best, most interesting and most well done costumes, however, were the two worn by Guinan in TNG. They were colorful, looked to be made of quality fabric and had numerous fun details.

Props included tricorders, phasers, Geordi’s visor, shuttlecraft
(from life size down to itty bitty) and communicators. All of the props were a bit rough around the edges, literally. Many were worn quite a bit, and they all looked pretty cheaply made. This was explained by a display that detailed three different levels of props. The highest level was for props that would be in close-ups, as they needed convincing detail and high quality craftsmanship. The middle level was for day to day use on the set. The lowest level was for props that might be dropped or thrown, and so needed to be crafted to survive some abuse. Those were often made out of softer or squishier material. It was a fascinating look into the reality of television production. They only spent the money they had to, and saved the rest for other things.

The exhibit included a version of Captain Kirk’s chair from the original series, but it was cordoned off and we weren’t allowed to sit in it. There were a few mock-up heads of characters such as Neelix,
Data, Odo, a generic Cardassian, a Bajoran and a few others.
Unfortunately, they did not have an Andorian head, which would have been very cool. One spot had a history of ships named Enterprise, including aircraft carriers, the Space Shuttle and all the Star Trek ships.

The large sets included the bridge, engineering and sick bay from
TNG, and Quark’s Bar from DS9 complete with Dabo table and gold pressed latinum.

One of the most exciting parts of the exhibit for the children was when we arrived at the TNG bridge. It was fun to play on, since you could sit anywhere and pretend you were that person doing that job.
Each station was labeled with the character that usually sat or stood there. We each took turns playing all the parts. I especially enjoyed sitting in the captain’s chair and at Wesley Crusher’s station.

Sick bay was all set up, but you were only allowed to look. You weren’t allowed to hop on a bed and see if you got better, or have surgery done on you to repair that pesky hernia.

Engineering was very hands on, like the bridge, because you could pretend you were Geordi, O’Brien or even Wesley solving an impossible problem to save the Enterprise crew from certain death yet again.

Quark’s bar had many details, such as the dozens of colorful bottles behind the bar. You weren’t allowed to play Dabo, but you could sit in the chairs at the bar and do a Star Trek quiz. Some of the questions were quite obscure. While I love Star Trek, I don’t make it my life’s mission (or even my five year mission) to know all the details. I only got 50% on the quiz, which gave me the humble rank of lieutenant. My kids each got 67%, with a lot of guessing, which made them science officers.

Another well done feature of the exhibit was a timeline all the way around one of the rooms. They had the entire Star Trek history in detail. The timeline actually started in the 20th century with real life space travel. It veered off into fantasy with Zefram Cochrane’s first warp 1 ship, and continued on through all the events, shows and movies in chronological order. It was interesting seeing some overlap between shows, between movies and shows and where a long-lived character from one show was born during the timeline of another show.

One thing I liked about the whole Star Trek exhibit is that it encompassed all of the series and the movies, and even mentioned the new movie coming out this summer. Everywhere I looked, I was constantly reminded of memories from my young childhood, watching the original
Star Trek in reruns; from my high school years with TNG; and from my young adulthood with the other shows. All those years of watching Star
Trek. I have seen every episode, every movie. I was reminded of just how cool the whole thing was: time travel, evil mirror goatee universes, the space time continuum, Enterprise A/B/C/D/E, the holodeck and Q. The forward thinking of the people that came up with Star Trek technology helped influence two generations of geeks, and even non-geeks, to develop revolutionary products and ideas.

The rest of the museum is definitely worth a visit as well. It is very hands on, unlike most of the Star Trek exhibit where you just stand in awe of the marvel that is Star Trek. Thank you, Gene

The Arizona Science Center is open from 10am to 5pm, closed
Thanksgiving and Christmas. General admission is $9 for adults and $7
for children. The Star Trek exhibit is an additional $20 for adults and
$16-18 for children. $85 will get you a family membership for four, which includes free general admission and discounts to special exhibits, IMAX and the planetarium.

Wired: A few fun exhibits to play on, tons of Star Trek information, a wide variety of displays, a magnificent timeline.

Tired: Price is a bit steep, especially for young children who might not get much out of it. Many props look more abused than used.

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