3 Highlights of the Henry Crown Space Center (Museum of Science & Industry Review Pt. 1)

When I first laid eyes on it, the Museum of Science & Industry reminded me more of a governmental building than a museum.

The lawn was perfectly manicured, of course; and the façade of the building just screamed neoclassical.

Do you notice how it looks a bit like a court building? Yeah, that’s neoclassical. Yet far more interesting than any court building, this was a renowned museum containing many treasures. Treasures we are about to see.

Front of Museum of Science Industry building

There was A LOT to see in this museum, so I’m breaking it up into multiple articles. Today we’re going to explore the three highlights you absolutely cannot miss within the Space Center wing, one of my favorite spots in the entire museum. It’s beloved by geeks and growth-oriented travellers alike, so let’s begin!

1. See the Apollo 8 Command Module up close

Apollo 8 Command Module behind glass

As the sticker on the exhibit signified, this behemoth is the real deal. Launched in December 1968, Apollo 8 was actually the 2nd manned mission in the Apollo space program and became the first manned craft to reach the Moon and return to Earth.

You’ll see this ahead and to the right just as you walk into the space center. It’s hard to miss, and the years (and miles!) were written all over its hull. If it could talk, I imagine it would have a deep, wise voice and tell many stories of lunar exploration. Speaking of space exploration, right nearby I was able to:

2. Behold the History of Rocketry at a Glance

NASA Rockets display incl. Saturn V, RL-10, Titan 2

As you can see, this section offered a concise history of rocketry in one glance, spanning the Apollo rockets all the way up to the Space Shuttle program. Best of all, a display in the opposing wall was playing the most famous space speech ever given (and what I consider the most inspiring presidential of speech of all time), that being JFK’s speech in Rice Stadium when he declared that America would go to the moon before the end of the 1960s.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”

~ John F. Kennedy [1962.09.12]

And we did.

3. Experience the Omnimax Theater featuring “Hubble”

Hawaiian Islands from low orbit

A visit to MSI is only half-complete until you experience their Omnimax Theater. Think IMAX times IMAX. The screen literally fills your entire view and stretches to absurd heights above your head, creating a really cool immersive experience.

When I was there, the film simply entitled “Hubble” was playing which was all about the mission to repair the Hubble space telescope in 2009. In the film, we saw the very human story of the repair mission and how close the Hubble came to becoming space junk before its time (pretty close); and then explored what the Hubble allows us to see, diving into nebulas and exploring the accretion disks of black holes deep within them.

I never thought that a movie about space could ever move me to tear up, no matter how large the screen was. But when I saw what the astronauts went through — the stress, the uncertainty, and the eventual success… Seeing the world from their perspective in low Earth orbit (including a beautiful view of the Hawaiian Islands) actually got me a little misty.

Of course, since the film concluded with a magnificent view of our fragile planet from high orbit while hearing “Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, I shouldn’t be entirely surprised that I left the theater a little misty-eyed. 🙂

Since you may not be familiar with this incredibly moving version of the song, I’ve included a video the song just below. And perhaps while you listen to it, you can close your eyes and imagine the awe-inspiring beauty of our blue globe from space.

How thankful I am. How thankful I am…

Coming soon:

We explore the amazing atmospheric exhibit, complete with a vortex machine over 10 meters tall! Also, tons more photos that I wasn’t able to include in this article are over at the Byteful Gallery in the MSI Space Center photo gallery. Share & enjoy. 🙂

Billions of Galaxies like blue spider webs

Madison’s Lights on the Lake Festival Review: A Venetian Night Boat Parade

Where land meets water and boats meet light, there you will find the boat parade of night.

If you’ve been reading BT for a while, you already know that I visit Madison pretty regularly, so imagine my surprise when I learned that a boat parade had been happening once a year, right under my nose, along the shore of Lake Mendota since 2009! Seriously, parade people, have you heard of advertising?

Usually I find out about such events from friends or Google searches, but I’ve gotta give Meetup.com credit for this one. After joining the Madison Energize Activities group a few months ago and checking out their calendar, I saw that someone was hosting a “Lights on the Lake boat parade” party, and a little bell rang in my head. Yes! How could I forget? I’ll have to make that a priority, I thought.

So I did.

Bringing an Intention into Reality

Last week, that intention became a reality when I arrived at a charming house on the edge of the lake, the home of a generous and kind gentleman named Pete who was hosting the meetup event at his home. I’d met him the night before, actually (at a thoroughly enjoyable Blue Moon party). More people had come for this event though, and soon dozens of fold out chairs crowded the edge of the lake.

I passed the time by chatting with people who I felt intuitively nudged to talk to. Most in attendance were part of the Energize group, too; and I soon realized that I was the youngest person there (further adding to my suspicion that bad Coke Cola reduced fertility in the 1980s, although that’s another article altogether). But don’t get me wrong. I don’t allow age, or the perception of age, to become a barrier between positive connections. Indeed, I had a lovely talk with a fellow writer that night.

A Photography Challenge

Once the sun had finally set (and I had eaten more hummus than I’d like to admit), we finally saw the Dane County Sheriff patrol boat, the first in a line of illuminated parade boats. However, because of the distance and the darkness, it was exceedingly difficult to get a decent photograph. The boats are supposed to follow the edge of Lake Mendota, but they don’t get that close to the shore at all. Even someone who had a better camera than me said he was only able to get colorful smears. (In fact, I took over one hundred photos that night, and I’m only sharing nine of them here. That’s how tricky it was.)

However, I am pleased at what I did capture. And I’ve got to give credit to Pete for lending me a small tripod which allowed me to take better photos. As any photographer knows, a long exposure time is an absolute must when it’s dark. (If you don’t hold the camera still for the length of the exposure, you get a lovely smear of light. Not exactly conducive to clear photography.) Having said that, I’m quite pleased at how the rainbow sailboat came out (4th photo below). Even though its motion produced a slight smearing of rainbow light, in this case it looks good!

Afterward, they even had a short fireworks show over the lake. Some of them looked like 12” shells, easily making them large enough to enjoy as they exploded in rich reds and oranges over the lake. A pretty lovely end to a pretty lovely night, I’d say.

Some Thoughts on Improvement

The boat parade isn’t without its shortcomings. Two practical suggestions that would really improve it:

  • Make it longer. There were only about 7-9 boats. Pretty short.
  • Come closer to the edge of the lake! What good is a parade if the attractions are tiny in the distance?

How to Attend the Venetian Night Boat Parade

That being said, it really is a one-of-a-kind Madison event. Also known as Venetian Night, nothing else is like it; and I really enjoyed it. The next “Lights on the Lake boat parade” is Sunday, September 1st, 2013 at 7:45 PM. And all you have to do is bring a chair and pick a spot somewhere along the shore of Lake Mendota. Try finding a spot behind UW Memorial Union on 800 Langdon st. (a public meeting spot by the lake which would provide a good view). And if you’re arriving by car, never fear: there’s a parking lot right off of Langdon street.

Bring your camera, bring snacks, bring foldable chairs, and consider bringing mosquito repellant. But most importantly, bring someone you care about.

Such a fun event is meant to be shared. 🙂


Man on pier beside Sailboat

Sunset behind Lake Mendota

Magenta Rock n Roll boat

Sailboat Rainbow Light Streaks

Orange Sherbet firework over Lake Mendota

— Bonus —

After you graciously hit the “Like” or “Tweet” button below this post (a courtesy for which I am very grateful), you may want to checkout the Lights on the Lake parade webpage for times and info over at the Drake & Company website. They even have some excellent videos of past parades.

All accompanying photos are in the Lights on the Lake Boat Parade photo gallery. With so much free, high-quality content, why not tell a friend and share this article?