A visit to the Space Center isn‘t like going to a museum as one might think at first, with probes, modules, satellites and what-not related to space exploration in good display and patiently awaiting to be taken in selfies. Not at all. First of all there are thousands of inquisitive like-minded, every-day people interested in and fascinated by space, eager to see how this complex machine, with plenty of complementary fields, fit all together in one big blended system. As it has turned out space is children’s best world and here there is plenty for them to get inspired from; for parents to receive an understanding of the valuable opportunities laying ahead.
In the back of visitors’ minds the Dutch Golden Age (in Dutch Gouden Eeuw ) of the XVIIth century with its arts, trade, science is a vivid picture but as soon as the Space Center’s gates vanish before us, a new world opens up.
The area is pretty large, and consists of several buildings located on a surface which requires time to cover on foot. So, unless one feels like going on a wild hunt with last minute runs, it is a good practice to be en guarde and put to use the info program containing the scheduled activities, and plan ahead according to personal interests and time availability.
The first thing that strikes when entering the Space Center, are lekker flowers of the motherland growing beautifully: the familiar visit card for the Netherlands, pleasant ; another one is the main building’s exterior architectural design. It comes like a pleasant surprise to see lumber on the front façade, if expecting to see mainly shiny futurism, round every corner. There is a lot of Italian engineering, design, science and delicious Italian ice cream, too! Engineers field experts, researchers, stuff members participating to ongoing space programs come from several European countries; it’s a privilege and a great pleasure to interact with them and their considerate way of making sense of complex concepts.
The speakers hall of fame: Esa astronauts of Italian nationality, and German who flew to the International Space Station in Space Shuttles, of Dutch and of Italian nationality who flew the Soyouz. Amazing to think what happens when boundaries are torn down and realities are built to last. We get to live that thanks to a virtual tour of the International Space Station: touring its habitat modules, freely floating from top notch science experiments to the stellar kitchen, from windowless laboratory to the cupola with the best balcony views available to humans. It sparks amazement hearing the astronauts’ stories about working for one of the greatest dreams in the making as if it didn’t belong to them, as if by being it engraved within themselves, they have become the dream itself. Upon her return to earth Cristoforetti, for instance, mentioned that she looked at her pictures taken while in space to reassure herself of actually having been there.
On a more pragmatic side, Cristoforetti’s career and well deserved successes are elements indicating improvements and advancements, since it is recognition of equal opportunities in industry sectors which value the importance of collaborative inclusion, equal opportunities, treatments and benefits pertinent both to professional and work/life balance. An inspired guess makes this a sign of the times, with the hope that it will soon turn into ripples of awareness. Cristoforetti, first female Italian astronaut, is the only Esa female astronaut in Europe in active status: in her speeches the essence of inspiring expertise, thinking and living.
Among the presentations at the Space Center, the Moon village, Mars exploration, environmental concepts were introduced as some of the projects being developed by the European Space Agency (ESA). And then real life-size replica of the space crafts , at that time, on orbit towards the Red planet, the European Columbus module, the science laboratory part of the ISS. The thrill and excitement of the successful Rosetta mission, landing a space craft on a comet for the first time in history of space exploration, of which even children knew all about, truly fascinating.
The concept of space exploration takes all new meanings while visiting the Space Center where space crafts, modules, communication satellites, space gear and parts are either designed, created, assembled, tested and in some cases all of the above. Getting the big picture of the processes, minds, capabilities, actors involved in space exploration is really a great experience.
Header image credit ellarte.