Our Exploration of Planet Explorers at the Adler Planetarium

Last Sunday, I took my three kids (ages 15 months, 4 and 6) and my sister (who is 9 months pregnant) to check out the brand spanking new permanent exhibit at the Adler Planetarium called Planet Explorers. This exhibit just opened on March 26th and it is sure to be  big hit with the 8 and under set. Planet Explorers is a much-needed hands-on exhibition for families with young children -- something that the Adler was lacking.

Each little visitor is invited to become a space explorer and embark on
an awe-inspiring journey
through the Universe to the mysterious Planet X. Kids can climb, crawl, control, fly, land, discover and excavate
their way through the exhibition.

We found that Planet Explorers is really focused on exploration -- at home, in our day-to-day environments and beyond. The exhibit is divided into three components.
Visitors begin in a familiar home and backyard setting where they can
explore using MiScopes, electronic magnifying
lenses which allow families to zoom in on the fine details of
products found in the home.

Then it is off to explore Mission and Control and prepare for the
shuttle launch. Future astronauts can climb
aboard a rocket and experience a simulated blast-off into outer
space. Using computer simulations, children will check rocket
systems, turn on the rocket's internal instruments and launch the

Kids then move on to explore Planet X. Young adventurers can play the
role of planetary
explorers and conduct research on the surface of another planet,
far, far away.

Overall, we all thought the exhibit was fabulous. Here are some of the highlights (plus a few things that we weren't as crazy about).

What we loved about Planet Explorers:

  • The
    exhibit is huge and has tons of stuff to offer kids in a range of ages. We
    were at the exhibit for well over and hour and my kids would have been
    glad to stay for another hour.
  • I loved that fact that there were
    friendly staff members throughout the exhibit. The guy dressed as an astronaut was particularly fun and engaging. I am not sure if
    these staff members are always on hand, but they definitely added
    to the experience.
  • I also thought that the exhibit has a nice
    mix of activities and education. Everything was modern and appealing (I
    don't know about you but I sometimes feel like other exhibits at
    the Adler seem a little dated). Everything from the NASA jackets and
    backpacks to the realistic equipment and terrain give kids insight into
    what it would be like to travel through space and explore life on
    another planet.
  • Everything is truly interactive. Kids in this
    age range really learn through touch and hands-on experience. Planet
    Explorers offers the opportunity to do just that.

we did not love about Planet Explorers:

  • I thought that it was
    unfortunate that the entrance to Planet Explorers is the weakest part
    of the otherwise engaging exhibit. Visitors walk into an area that
    looks like any modern kitchen in a new construction condo. There are
    magnifying glasses and plastic food on the counters and a "reading nook"
    with books about space and bean bags. But overall, the area lacks
    context for first-time visitors who are expecting an exhibit about space
    explorations. Even some of the staff seemed confused about this section
    of the exhibit.  
  • The
    Space Walk feature. I should be more specific here -- I did not enjoy
    the completely pitch black Space Walk experience but my kids didn't seem
    to be bothered by it. I frankly worry that it is dangerous. Visitors
    can enter this completely dark room (I mean seriously so dark that you cannot
    see a thing) from either side and some sort of collision just seems
    inevitable under these blackout conditions. When my pregnant sister went
    in chasing after one of my kids, I almost had a heart attack.  Other
    parents at the exhibit agreed. One lady told me the experience made her feel nauseous and she had to sit down. Maybe some additional signage would
    be helpful here so that people know what they are getting into. And a
    clearly marked entrance and exit wouldn't hurt either.
  • There
    is a great sandbox area where kids can dig up soft foam veggies and
    scoop and pour til their hearts content -- which was great. However,
    the "sand" box is actually filled with a synthetic cork material (so
    says one of the staffers) that sticks to your clothes and travels
    through the museum and home with you (there is quite a bit of it in the
    backseat of my car currently). A helpful staff member told me that the
    Adler is currently looking into other, less messy materials and the
    synthetic cork is going to be switched out for something else in the
    next few weeks.
  • As kids race to sit in the cockpit of the
    shuttle, they are ascending and descending a set of metal stairs that
    made this Mama really nervous. Again, I love that kids can roam freely
    throughout this area and touch everything, but I worry that some little
    person is going to take a bad header down those steps.

Explorers is a wonderful addition to the Adler for the younger set. It
is a must-do for Chicago-area families. Are there any other parents out there who've had a chance to check this new exhibit out yet? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought about it.

Planet Explorers is
included in the price of general admission; $10 (adults); $8
(adults-Chicago residents); $6 (children 3 - 14); $5
(children 3 - 14-Chicago residents); children ages 2 and under
admitted free.

Pssst . . .  April 20th and 27th are free days at
the Adler -- perfect time to go!

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