Taking a trip to Mars

Sat., Feb. 28
2:30 p.m.
National Geographic Explorer’s Hall
17th and M streets N.W.

My friend and I were on our way to Mars, sans spacesuits and a rocket ship. This trip was to the National Geographic Explorer’s Hall; we were looking forward to seeing the Mars 2K4 exhibit. Even though I’ve never been much of a science person, I was excited about the possibility of hands-on exhibits. Who doesn’t get a kick out of that?

It was the quintessential day for a museum trip. With the sun shining and a light breeze blowing, it was easy to forget that, for what’s seemed like an eternity now, winter has ruled D.C. with its icy grip.

Outside the front doors was a life-sized and very life-like ostrich statue in a running pose welcoming visitors to the National Geographic complex. After admiring the bird for a moment, I moved on and entered through the heavy front doors of the building. To the immediate right was the exhibit; my friend and I were about to enter the world of everything Martian.

First up was a general introduction to Mars. From fact to fiction, the exhibit gave a general overview of the Red Planet, including information on its atmosphere and its portrayal in Hollywood. From the start, my friend assured me that if I was unclear about Mars and anything else celestial, I could ask her.

“Alex, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to these things. I took a class in astrology last semester,” my friend said in all seriousness.

We continued with the exhibit. Maybe I’d be lucky enough to find someone who had taken an astronomy class instead.

Although the hallways were narrow and the exhibit was short, I did learn a few things. From Galileo to NASA, Mars 2K4 covered it all.

An upside of the exhibit was the few computer-simulation games visitors could play. I tried maneuvering a fake camera on Mars but couldn’t quite get it down. My friend and I were excited about trying out the flight simulator but were dismayed to discover a young boy in there, busy living out his space cowboy dreams, instead.

The exhibit wasn’t all that I’d thought it would be, but I am looking forward to going back later in the year for other rotating exhibits. Like the magazine, the exhibits have something for everyone.

Once my friend and I had taken advantage of the few hands-on exhibits, we headed for the grand finale of any museum trip: the gift shop. While I was selecting my purchases, I heard a cacophony of approximately one million stuffed animal ducks quacking after being simultaneously squeezed by one innocent child. Aren’t kids great? I made my purchase and exited the building with my personal astrologist in tow.

On our way home, with a slight detour to Wendy’s, my friend and I discussed our findings. The exhibit wasn’t all that was promised, but will I go back? Yes. The experience in itself was a hoot. Will I bring my friend again? Maybe. It all depends on whether or not I’ll need a lesson in horoscopes.

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