As a boy, Earl Mullen's spent countless hours on his back gazing into the star-filled sky. Like many kids in the 1960s, he was intrigued by outer space. Fueled by the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union and man's first steps on the moon, Mullen's interest quickly became a passion.
Over the next several decades, he amassed an impressive collection of memorabilia now on display at The Space Museum in his hometown of Bonne Terre. More than 600 artifacts include engineering models, space suits and a flag that has flown to the moon and back. Mullins hopes the exhibits and interactive displays will spark interest in what he believes is one of mankind's greatest achievements – space exploration.
While Missouri may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of outer space, the Show-Me State is home to several spots that offer an out-of-this-world experience.
James S. McDonnell Planetarium, St. Louis: See a "night sky" with more than 9,000 stars projected on a 24-meter dome at the St. Louis Science Center. The planetarium's Boeing Space Station exhibit features the future of space travel, while the Orthwein StarBay's SBC Learning Center offers a glimpse of what it's like to live and work on the International Space Station.
The Arvin Gottlieb Planetarium, Kansas City: Experience interactive astronomy exhibits, space-themed shows and night-sky viewing at the planetarium in Kansas City's historic Union Station. A 60-foot dome and state-of-the-art projection system make it one of the largest and highest-resolution planetariums in the Midwest.
Challenger Learning Center – St. Louis: Learn what it's like to be an astronaut, scientist or engineer working on a mission to the moon, Mars or the International Space Station. Simulated space missions and science education programs are offered at the center - part of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, an international organization dedicated to continuing the mission of the astronauts who lost their lives in the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle accident.
Columbia Public Schools Planetarium, Columbia: A full-dome projection system displaying images of a starry sky and a library full of space-themed shows are offered at the planetarium, located at Rock Bridge High School. The planetarium is open to the public on many Saturdays during the school year.
Laws Observatory, Columbia: Sitting on top of the astronomy and physics building at the University of Missouri-Columbia, the observatory houses a 16" telescope for star gazing and an astronomy exhibit that includes a collection of autographed photos from NASA astronauts, engineers and others connected with the space program. The observatory is open most Wednesday evenings, weather permitting.
Del and Nora Robison Planetarium, Kirksville: Take a "tour" of the solar system and learn more about the space exploration at the planetarium at Truman State University. An observatory, operated by the school's astronomy club, hosts public stargazing events during the school year.
Bushman Planetarium, St. Joseph: A variety of science- and space-themed shows are featured at the planetarium, located on the campus of Missouri Western State University. The dome is tilted, instead of positioned directly overhead, making it easier to view.
Missouri's space attractions go beyond museum exhibits and planetarium shows. Try a celestial stay at the Moonrise Hotel in St. Louis. A massive moon sculpture sitting atop the building makes it easy to spot. Owner Joe Edwards – obsessed with outer space since he was a child – built the hotel with the moon in mind. Amid the space-inspired décor you'll find display cases filled with his collection of memorabilia, including items from the Apollo missions, the space race and aviation history. Sample cosmic cuisine at the Eclipse restaurant, and take a trip up to the Rooftop Terrace Bar for a look at the stars before heading off to bed.
When planning a trip to one of Missouri's space-themed attractions be sure to check their website for hours and show schedule.
Written by Liz Coleman