About the Exhibition

Part of the Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration exhibition.

Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration, a new exhibition that offers a vision of the future of space travel as it boldly examines humanity's next steps in our solar system and beyond. The exhibition features a re-creation of a lunar habitat, a model of a space elevator rising up from the surface of the Moon, one of the world's largest color holograms depicting 1,000 exoplanets, and engaging, immersive simulations. The exhibition celebrates the pioneering accomplishments of both manned and unmanned space missions and considers the critical partnership of robotic spacecraft and astronauts as humanity journeys farther beyond Earth.

Although NASA's final Space Shuttle mission ended this summer, numerous exciting missions are underway or being planned. Beyond Planet Earth envisions a future when humans travel out of low-Earth orbit to explore the next frontier--our Solar System and eventually the Milky Way galaxy. Missions described in the exhibition were once limited to the realm of science fiction, but today are discussed by leading scientists and engineers: mining for rare gasses on the Moon, landing on or deflecting a potentially deadly asteroid, traveling to Mars--and perhaps even establishing colonies there. Using a new augmented reality (AR) app created as a companion to the exhibition Beyond Planet Earth, visitors will also be able to find a Mars-bound spaceship, glimpse a near-Earth asteroid, watch a Mars rover, and more. They can download the app before visiting the exhibition, then look for eleven AR icons sprinkled throughout the show. By using the camera on their iPod touch or iPhone they can activate the icon and unlock animations. Then, visitors can share images by email or post to Facebook and Twitter. A link to a special site will let visitors collect other icons, find out the science behind space technologies, and share photos with friends. 

BPE About


Beyond Planet Earth will open November 19 and remain on view until August 12, 2012.

"Humanity's fascination with space travel is, at its core, part of our larger instinct to explore the natural world," said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. "This year, with groundbreaking discoveries of hundreds of exoplanets and the upcoming launch of the most scientifically advanced Mars rover to date, has already ushered us into the next phase of space exploration. The scientific questions and discoveries that await us are thrilling to consider, and we are pleased to explore some of these issues in this exhibition."

            This year marks the 50th anniversary of human space travel. To recognize the impressive milestones over the past five decades, Beyond Planet Earth opens with a retrospective of important space missions, with authentic equipment and models of historic spacecraft including Sputnik, the first manmade satellite, the Apollo lunar module, and the Hubble Space Telescope. Visitors can also glimpse the possible future of commercial space travel thanks to a scale model of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, designed to ferry passengers into outer space in the near future. 

Beyond Planet Earth then moves into sections of immersive environments that offer a glimpse at what the next 50 to 100 years may bring. Informed by the latest scientific research, the exhibition transports visitors to faraway destinations, from Mars to Europa and beyond.

Lunar colonies: The exhibition presents a diorama of a proposed lunar base. Along with a one-third full-size expandable habitat that can house up to four astronauts, the exhibition also highlights some cutting-edge technologies for future human activity: a space elevator to transport mined materials (such as helium-3) as well as an interactive spinning model of a liquid mirror telescope. 

Asteroids: This section features a large 3-D re-creation of the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa along with the Japanese Hayabusa spacecraft that rendezvoused with it and collected samples in 2005. An interactive station explores the most plausible scientific scenarios for deflecting the path of a "doomsday" asteroid.

Mars: Beyond Planet Earth features a full-sized walk-through diorama of the Martian landscape as well as an interactive simulation that allows visitors to fly over the surface of the red planet. Visitors come face-to-face with a full-scale, 9-foot-long facsimile of the Mars Science Laboratory Rover, called Curiosity, scheduled to launch in late 2011, as well as a prototype of a sleek new space suit, designed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), that astronauts could wear on Mars.  This section also speculates about the possibility of transforming Mars into a more Earth-like planet--a hypothetical process known as terraforming--by warming Mars, creating an atmosphere, and gradually introducing lifeforms. 

Europa and the Search for Life: Humans have long wondered whether life exists elsewhere in our solar system. The final section of the exhibition gives visitors a glimpse into the future of space exploration with a replica of a proposed robotic submersible that could one day dive through the icy layers of Europa, the sixth closest moon of Jupiter, and search its vast oceans for any evidence of life. The exhibition ends with a breathtaking look at the hundreds of exoplanets discovered in just one small portion of the Milky Way, prompting visitors to consider the tantalizing possibility of life on planets orbiting other stars. Will humans eventually find a way to venture out beyond our solar system?  Will we discover evidence of life on another planet?            


Visions of Exploring Space From Science Fiction

Many scenarios presented in Beyond Planet Earth may seem familiar. That's because several of the predictions explored in the exhibition--from lunar colonies to the search for extraterrestrial life--have been at the heart of science fiction for the last 50 years.

Even before Neil Armstrong set foot on Tranquility Base on July 20, 1969, the prospect of living on the Moon had captured the popular imagination. From Cyrano de Bergerac's satiric L'autre monde (1657), to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and director Duncan Jones' Moon, released in 2009, the lure of a permanent lunar base has been a mainstay of science fiction.

Mining asteroids has been a persistent theme in sci-fi stories beginning in the 1930s and 1940s, including, most famously, Isaac Asimov's Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953).  Asteroids have also played a major role in fiction as instruments of destruction. Earth has been targeted time and again in A Torrent of Faces (1967) by James Blish and Norman L. Knight, Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (1977), and in films such as Deep Impact and Armageddon (1998).

The terraforming of alien worlds into an Earth 2 paradise has been a sci-fi staple since the term was first coined in 1942 by Jack Williamson in his Seetee Ship stories.  Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy of novels--Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars--described the hypothetical processes needed to accomplish this metamorphosis.

Finally, the possibility of finding life on other planets has captivated the public like no other sci-fi theme, from Carl Sagan's Contact to dozens of episodes of Star Trek and Doctor Who.  And speculation about humans traveling to the stars and populating distant exoplanets may remind visitors of the galaxy-spanning civilization of Asimov's Foundation series or Alfred Bester's 1956 classic Stars My Destination.

Although they echo fantastic imaginings of science-fiction writers, the scenarios presented in Beyond Planet Earth are all the more amazing because they are firmly based in the realm of scientific and technological possibility--visions of a true future for space travel.