Getting up close and personal with stars high in the sky may seem impossible to many - but visitors to the Intech Science Centre can do exactly that.
It’s home to the biggest planetarium in the country, plus there’s the chance to play wheelchair basketball, shoot a parachute into the sky or move a ball simply with your mind.
The centre near Winchester is trying to reach out to families by showing that science isn’t just numbers on paper or complicated chemicals. It’s in everything we do and see, although many of us don’t even realise.
And space is a frontier that’s easier to explore than you think.
World Space Week, which is running until tomorrow, celebrates everything to do with the final frontier with educational science and events. The Intech Science Centre is taking part by putting on its annual World Space Weekend, which takes place today and tomorrow.
Dr Jenni Shipway, 38, is the planetarium manager at Intech, which is a registered charity.
She explains: ‘World Space Week is an international event involving nearly 70 countries where people run events. It’s a week of industry innovation and everybody gathers to put on special exhibitions on space.
‘We are putting on competitions and special planetarium shows. Everything we do is just for the price of a normal visit too.’
Mars Rovers built by Astrium apprentices, some of whom are from Portsmouth, will be tested and there’s the chance to have your image bounced off a satellite. Derek the teddy astronaut will be back from his high-altitude balloon adventures, and there will be a number of Star Wars characters walking around the centre.
Jenni adds: ‘There will definitely be stormtroopers for people to see, and there’s a competition where you can build a spaceship and space engineers will judge it. There will be prizes for different age groups so everybody can get involved.’
Visitors to the centre will even get the chance to hold pieces of moon rock and meteorites from Mars.
‘They have been encased in plastic so visitors can get up close by holding them,’ says Jenni.
‘And there’s the chance to launch your own homemade rocket.’
Having worked at the Winchester centre for nearly six years, Jenni loves everything to do with space and science.
‘It’s just awesome,’ she says, ‘and it’s so inspiring to think we live on a planet which is in a solar system in a galaxy.’
To m any people working in space and science, it doesn’t necessarily mean becoming an astronaut.
Jenni says: ‘There’s so much interesting work to be done and there’s always the chance for people to get involved in it. And there are opportunities available in the UK, children don’t have to grow up and go work for NASA. The UK has incredible things going on here.’
And she wants Intech to be a part of that future.
She adds: ‘I’d love someone to be a Nobel Prize winner, or they build a spacecraft that takes people to another planet, and they say that they will never forget their first trip to Intech Science Centre as a child.
‘It only takes one child who hadn’t even thought about it before. But I want everyone to have a fantastic time here too.’
The centre and planetarium have around 150,000 visitors a year and a lot of them are children.
Andy Lane, 60, is the marketing manager at Intech and he believes it’s important to engage with them from a young age.
With more than 100 individual exhibits, the centre is a popular destination for families across Hampshire.
He says: ‘We want people to have fun with science. From building an arch bridge to moving a ball with their brain, there’s lots for them to have fun doing.
‘We also have the largest planetarium in the UK that shows programmes about astronomy and special live events which promote science too.’
The centre is looking to the future and last year a brand new exhibition was put in place among the family favourites.
Andy explains: ‘Our most popular exhibition is about the science of sport. It has 17 exhibits including wheelchair basketball and rowing simulators.
‘A part which is proving popular is moving a ball with your mind. It uses your brain waves and converts them into a magnetic pulse which moves the ball. You play against other people and who wins depends on who is the most focused.’
With the Olympics coming up, Andy and the team thought a sport exhibition would go down well.
Andy adds: ‘A child can take on an adult, it’s about single-mindedness and focusing. It’s for the whole family to enjoy really.’
With many of the exhibits designed for children from the age of five to use, it’s a fun and simple way of engaging with science, sometimes without even realising it.
He says: ‘The exhibits don’t require a lot of scientific knowledge, but they are there to engage with young mind. It stimulates them to think about what they are doing and how it works, so they are learning.
‘There are a lot of adults who love it too, anyone can learn something new about science.’
With family space lectures and beginners’ stargazing nights, there are also evenings for adults only. It simply gives them the chance to explore the centre without a lot of children there.
Andy says: ‘It just means there will be shows on in the planetarium for that level of audience. We can also have specialist lectures and guest speakers who come in with a performance show.’
With popular BBC programmes by physicist Dr Brian Cox, more and more people are becoming aware of the universe and its science simply by watching the TV.
‘There’s a lot of interest in space and stars now, and those kind of shows get big ratings because science is interesting and enjoyable. That’s why we put on these events, to show people what is really there.
‘We are trying to show what’s popular, but not in an academic way. We are the first interaction for many people about science. It’s got to be fun, you can’t learn without having fun.’
Intech Science Centre near Winchester is open seven days a week from 10am until 4pm in the week, and 10am until 5pm at the weekend. October half-term opening hours are 9am until 6pm, with a free shuttle bus running. Admission to the main exhibition area is £9 for adults, £6.50 for children and £7.50 for pensioners and students. Family tickets for two adults and two children cost £27.90.
Planetarium shows cost £5 or £2.20 with an exhibition ticket.
Go to intech-uk.com.
WORLD SPACE WEEK
World Space Week is an international celebration of science and technology. This year’s theme is called Exploring Mars, Discovering Earth.
Created by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999, government agencies, industry, non-profit organisations, teachers and individuals can organise events to be part of the week.
Its purpose is to educate people around the world about the benefits that they receive from space, and to teach young people about science in a fun way.
Go to worldspaceweek.org for more information.