Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin kicked off a new exhibit about outer space by hosting lectures by a Hollywood special-effects producer and an Elgin native who makes his living communicating with people in space.
John Palmer told some 100 audience members Friday how his Global Effects company, whose company made some of the displays for the library, has created space-oriented props for Hollywood films such as "Space Camp," "Apollo 13" and "The Martian."
Hal Getzelman told of how as a teenager he built a telescope under the guidance of Elgin Area School District U46 astronomer Don Tuttle. Getzelman later attended the Air Force Academy, flew F-15 fighter planes in Operation Desert Storm and now is chief engineer for NASA's CapCom (Capsule Communications) department, working with astronauts in orbit aboard the International Space Station.
Called "Discover Space: A Cosmic Journey," the traveling exhibit will stay at Gail Borden through July 5. It includes a life-size reproduction of the control cabin where Apollo astronauts steered their Lunar Excursion Modules to landings on the moon -- while standing up.
Visitors also see a tire that flew aboard the shuttle Atlantis; a space suit; models of every major American space vehicle, from the first 1960s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules through the coming four-man Orion vehicle that may take people back to the moon; and explanations of what other planets are like.
Kids and grown-ups alike can play video games inviting them to create their own solar system and judge how scientifically accurate scenes from movies are. A terrifying, supposedly almost-impossible flight through an asteroid belt in "Star Wars" actually would not be very dangerous at all, one game says. If the asteroids were like those in our solar system, they are hundreds or even thousands of miles apart.
Visitors also learn that on planets like Jupiter and Saturn diamonds probably fall from the sky like rain, while temperatures on Mercury range from 800 degrees above zero Fahrenheit to 300 below.
Since the space shuttles retired, America's contribution to the International Space Station relies almost entirely on Russian rockets and privately owned American ones.
Getzelman rejoiced at how just days ago Elon Musk's SpaceX company was able to land most of a rocket safely aboard a floating platform after using that rocket to launch cargo toward the space station. Being able to recover and reuse such rocket sections will greatly reduce the cost of space travel. If we had to throw away the Boeing 747 every time we flew to Paris, he said, traveling there would be very expensive.
Meanwhile, Getzelman noted, the Blue Origin company started by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is working to start "space tourism." The more such projects become reality, he predicted, the more affordable space travel and exploration will become.
"Government only has so much money."