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Description Itinerary Walkthrough

MarsQuest is organized in five areas: Introduction to Mars, Canyons, Landing Site, Volcanoes, and North Pole.

The two major themes of the exhibition are (A) Mars exploration and (B) Earth-Mars comparisons. These themes are introduced in this area. The human story of Mars exploration is told in the Mars Theater video. Low-tech and high-tech components engage children and adults as they discover how Mars is similar to and different from Earth.

    MarsQuest: Hot and Cold Globe
    MarsQuest: Hot and Cold Globe
    Photo by Skip Peterson
  • Entry panel. This display provides a landmark and introduces visitors to the exhibition. Nearby the Manned Lander model illustrates its movement across the surface of Mars. Visitors are asked to ponder when human exploration of Mars might take place. Will it be in their lifetimes?
  • Mars Theater. The theater, complete with benches, presents a dramatic 10-minute video of NASA's Mars Exploration Program using spectacular images, animations, and interviews with scientists and engineers involved in this fascinating scientific quest.
  • Hot and Cold Globe. Visitors can touch Earth and Mars to discover the relative temperature differences between the two planets.
  • Soda Can on Mars. Visitors lift two soda cans to compare their relative weights on Earth and on Mars, demonstrating that Mars gravity is 40% of Earth's gravity.
  • Rusted Sphere. A wall-mounted display case shows a rusted metal sphere and a small piece of Hawaiian lava to illustrate how Mars acquired its reddish landscape.
  • Virtual Planets. This is a computer station where visitors can rotate and examine detailed globes of Earth and Mars using a trackball to locate and compare the geographic features of Earth and Mars.
  • "Where Was This Picture Taken?" Visitors select among a series of images and test their observation skills by identifying the image as being from Earth or Mars.
  • Exploration Timeline. A graphic display on a five-part panel outlines the history of exploration of Mars.
  • What's New on Mars? Visitors access a computer kiosk to review recent discoveries about Mars. This component is continually updated by the Space Science Institute.
  • Mars Globe. A rotating 3-foot-diameter globe presents the beautiful, alien landscape of Mars in front of a backdrop of images from orbiting spacecraft.
  • Mars Global Surveyor. A one-tenth scale model of the spacecraft is included, on loan from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
MarsQuest: Fog Canyon
MarsQuest: Fog Canyon
Photo by Skip Peterson

Components in this area explore valley formation and the use of scientific tools. Visitors can make three-dimensional images of Mars using a laser altimeter. The Fog Basin interactive allows visitors to play with fog and at the same time learn that fog occurs on Mars, in canyons like the Vallis Marineris. Visitors can view under polarizing light a thin section of the Zagami meteorite, one of only a handful of meteorites found on earth that scientists believe came from Mars.

  • Canyon model. This touchable model of Valles Marineris shows the curve of the planet.
  • A photo puzzle. Visitors can assemble a mosaic of images to create a Martian scene.
  • Laser Altimeter. Visitors use a laser beam to scan a model of Mars terrain and develop a 3-D image.
  • Fog Canyon. Visitors make eddies and other shapes in the fog of a 6-foot basin that is similar to the fog present on Mars.
  • Mars Meteorite. Visitors can view a thin slice of a Mars meteorite through a polarizing microscope and learn about its 2-million year journey from Mars. They can also compare meteorites from space to several examples of Earth rocks.
MarsQuest: Mars Exploration Rover model
MarsQuest: Mars Exploration Rover model
Photo by Skip Peterson
While Mars is now dry, some of its features suggest that a flood once ravaged the area of Mars called Ares Vallis. For example, this broad plain is studded with geologically diverse rocks that floodwaters probably moved there from remote locations. The area is an ideal place for surface exploration vehicles, such as the Sojourner rover that was part of the Pathfinder mission.

The Gusev crater is introduced here, the landing site of the Spirit Mars Exploration Rover. At the Rover Test Bed, visitors are able to drive a model rover over simulated Martian terrain by uploading a series of commands to the rover's computer—the same process used by NASA scientists with the real rovers. Mars weather is featured, with its wispy dust devils and global dust storms. Visitors can make their own dust devil, and a computer station allows them to compare the average weather conditions at the hosting science center to the weather conditions at Gusev crater.

  • Martian Thermocline. A cross-view of a landing site shows average temperature at various elevations, illustrating the extreme range between the temperature on the ground and four feet above the ground.
  • Rover Test Bed. Just as NASA scientists drive Mars rovers remotely, visitors drive a robot vehicle across a simulated Martian terrain by entering a series of moves into a computer.
  • Sojourner Rover model. This is a full-scale model of the Sojourner rover. It is much smaller than the Mars Exploration Rovers.
  • Mars Exploration Rover model. This authentic, full-sized model of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) is on loan from the Jet Propulsion Lab. The MER model includes a computer kiosk where visitors can access updated information on the MER missions and watch animations of the launches and landings of the two MERs.
  • Pathfinder Spacecraft Landing Sequence. Visitors can activate a DVD animation of the Pathfinder spacecraft landing in 1997.
  • MarsQuest Online. Selected activities from the MarsQuest Online Web site ( allow visitors to explore Mars terrain in 3-D and launch a spacecraft from Earth to Mars.
  • Soil Box. Visitors can put their fingers into simulated Martian soil.
  • Dust Devil Interactive. Visitors turn a knob to activate a liquid vortex of water that simulates a swirling dust devil, a common feature of Mars weather.
  • Mars Weather Station. A computer kiosk allows visitors to compare the seasons on Mars and Earth, and a video presents weather conditions at the Pathfinder Landing Site.
MarsQuest: Find the Structure
MarsQuest: Find the Structure
Photo by Skip Peterson
As the largest volcano in the solar system, Mars' Olympus Mons dwarfs any volcano found on Earth. The components in this exhibition area demonstrate how volcanoes are formed and compare volcanic eruptions on Earth and Mars.

  • Find the Structure. Visitors look through a video telescope to find very tall structures placed on a three-foot-high diorama of Olympus Mons, demonstrating the immensity of this volcano.
  • Volcanic Eruption. Mars is covered with extinct volcanoes. Visitors sit at workstations to create patterns in a cross-section of an erupting volcano.
  • Touchable Volcanoes. Models of Olympus Mons and Hawaiian volcanoes can be touched to compare their sizes and features.
  • Rock samples. Visitors can touch a large (3-by-4-foot) sample of pahoehoe lava from Hawaiian volcanoes. Smaller samples of other types of basaltic lava are also displayed. (Scientists believe that the Hawaiian volcanoes and Olympus Mons were formed by a similar process.)
This region of Mars is characterized by vast sheets of frozen water and carbon dioxide ice surrounded by a vast sea of sand dunes. Winds generated at the boundary between the ice sheets and somewhat warmer dunes move massive amounts of sand in an endless dance around the pole.

  • Lighting the Surface. Visitors are able to control light and shadow on a simulated area of Martian terrain to determine the real hills and craters in the terrain.
  • Aeolian Landscape lets visitors change wind speed and direction to create dust storms and dunes in a simulated Martian landscape. The light in this captivating interactive is close to what scientists think Mars would look like during the day.
Description Itinerary Walkthrough
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