64. Kennedy Space Center's Space Shuttle Atlantis Experience Is Part Museum, Part Themed Attraction


Welcome to museum. Archipelago. I'm Ian Elsner. Museum archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is never longer than fifteen minutes. So let's get started. We're going to start today's episode with a thought experiment. Think of a museum, the first museum, you think what does it look like hold that thought now think of theme park. How different do they look from each other. My guess is pretty different. But the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex in Cape Canaveral. Florida has aspects of both on the one hand it's a museum galleries, featuring spacecraft historic launch pads and the complete Saturn five rocket laid out in an enormous room. But on the other hand, it's a themed attraction, a destination featuring ride like simulators fiend concession stands, and the new space, shuttle Atlantis experience. It's as if the complex only a short drive away from Orlando Florida is competing for visitors against one of the Globes, most effective themed attractions, Walt DisneyWorld as it. Turns out not everyone mentally separates museums, and the parks. So discreetly avenue view about the relationship between entertainment and education. This is Tom Owen, a vice president of PGA, destinations who worked on that. New space, shuttle, Atlantis experience at Kennedy Space Center. Oh, my name is Tom Owen. I'm a vice president with PJ destinations. My background is in theaters scenery and lighting design provider. And so I've been able to incorporate that the ethical thinking into my work with museums, and zoos and aquariums and theme parks early the entire time. I've been here. So that's that's been a lot of fun. It's not surprising that someone who works in both museums and theme parks, would see similarities between the two but I am surprised that Owen doesn't see the world divided between education and entertainment. I think that entertainment is a great way to educate people if it was just the dry, fax, people would get bored and leave. You know. So entertainment doesn't. Finnish education. In fact, I think it, it often times makes it more effective. We believe that you can actually learn quite a few things from theme parks and themed attractions if you can appeal to emotions or connect people with people, there's opportunity for learning in all types of attractions. This is Diane Lochner, who is also vice president at PG, and she also worked on the space, shuttle, Atlantis experience. Hello, my name's Diane. Lochner I'm a vice president at PJ, V destinations PJ, be works on designing destinations and attractions where people spend their leisure time. My background is actually an architecture. I'm a registered architect. And so might intrigue is the understanding of the built environment, but how that impacts visitors as they're working their way through attractions and museums and the space shuttle, Atlantis experience can be described as both a themed attraction. And as a museum the exhibit. Which opened in twenty thirteen features one of the three remaining shuttle orbiters, the white part of the US, spatial system that looks like a giant glider Lochner, and the rest of the design team use principles of famed attraction design to introduce visitors to the orbiter. So we made some conscious decisions about how to introduce people to the shuttle itself. It's a it's a very scripted linear experience prior to witnessing the shuttle, and that was intentional because we needed to emotionally prepare the visitors to accept the information that they were going to learn about the shuttle, and so before anybody actually sees the shuttle itself. There is a short pre show film that gave a little bit of information, mostly about the, the people that were involved in designing the shuttle, it's not heavy it's, it's not deep. It's not long. And then they move into another theater, that is got a very inspirational film again, about the shuttle, and the launch. On some of the sequence of the process of the shuttle, and then, and then finally, at the end of that film, the shuttle is reveal very dramatically this type of time control with required. Film reminds me of a more, recent example, George Washington's headquarters tent displayed at the museum of the American revolution in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This tent is presented in its own feeder, with screens and projections. If the tent with simply set up in the gallery, without the focused attention, people would just walk right past it. But by making large production out of it with lights screens and sounds, the effect is a viscerally memorable experience. Now back to the spatial Lantis, the image on the screen actually sort of aligns with the space shuttle, beyond at the end of the film, the screen actually lifts up and the visitors are presented nose to nose. So to speak with space shuttle, Atlantis. It's really been an interesting thing to watch. Visitors by and cry as that screen lifts up and reveals the shuttle, we created that really important preparation so that people were ready to receive the information in sort of start to learn and start their experience at spatial Atlanta's after the screen dramatically lifts up revealing the orbiter visits pass through a hallway, the screen used to be, and enter the Atlantis display after which they are free to wander through the entire gallery. The main idea of the gallery is that the US spatial system with an innovative program designed to use spacecraft so that the frequency of going to space, could increase an astronaut's could get more work done in space. The main takeaway, about the space shuttle, Atlantis attraction was the idea that the individual orbiters the, the thing that looks like the airplane, that everybody thinks of as the shuttle was part of a system, and that whole purpose of that whole shuttle program was working in space. And so we depicted Atlantis. As a workhorse. In fact, the way that we chose to, to display, it was banked at a dramatic banking, and with the payload bay doors, open, telescopic, arm, deployed just as it would have been at the moment that it was selling away from the international space station. So that, that message of, of Atlantis at work was a powerful image that we wanted to in ingrained in the minds of people every exhibit that was designed had to be approved by Nastase stem education team. So there was a again, a very strong interest that people learn and, and that, but also that the project would inspire the next generation of space exploration, that the project wasn't designed for people that are already space enthusiasts are already knew a lot about space. It was really designed, for the most part for people that we wanted to inspire, so that they would become space enthusiasts and maybe take an interest in stem or maybe even take an interest in. Career in the space program. So here's that middle part of the ven diagram the intersection of themed attraction and museum, the shuttle, Atlantis experience is educational, and it deals with a set of historical events, but heavily relies on some of the principles of themed attraction design to get the point across fundamentally, I see themed attractions as engineer the to create a specific emotional response in visitors and through that they offering a scape from the real world. They are chance for us to enter a fictional world, frontier land on the old west themed land in the magic kingdom at DisneyWorld never actually existed. But the clever trick is to make it feel like a lift in space that has its own history while I'm in a fictional world. Even the smallest thing that reminds me of the real world takes me out of the Aleutian and hilariously sometimes a theme park will even go so far as to put fake historical markers, and even museums that describe. People and events that never happened. But nevertheless, led to what the environment looks like today, but when I'm learning about the real world. I'm not sure the same strategies always apply. The real world is messy and the study of history, for example, is not amusing in episode seventeen of museum archipelago. I covered the spectacular failure of a Disney theme park concept called Disney's America in the early nineties, Disney's misguided idea would have put a park, showcasing, quote, the sweep of American history, including the institution of slavery. And the civil war within the fun, fem- park environment just outside Washington. DC Cortlandt Milroy writing in a series of Washington Post editorial about the then plan, Disney's America around nineteen Ninety-three brought out the inherent contradiction of the project. Merging fund out with a view into American history. He writes against the backdrop of continuing distortion of African American history. Which includes awful, textbooks and self-induced 'em. Nesia about the legacy of slavery, a slave exhibit by Disney doesn't even sound right by contrast, the US space program happens to be an example of a much less problematic history that as a result, works displayed in the themed attraction setting and one on US government property, not at DisneyWorld being shuttle astronaut was extremely risky of the five shuttle orbiters that have gone into space, only three of them are still around to display in museums. But nobody became a shuttle astronaut by accident and since the failed Disney's America concept, the big parks, have stayed out of attractions, based on real life histories, or at least relatively recent real life histories, instead, they have blurred the lines between various destination types by switching modes both Owen and Lochner, seal world where competition for visitors leads museums to focus more on creating that specific emotional response. You. Find in famed attractions. Museums are beginning to investigate other attractions relative to relative to continuing to capture more visitors certainly the ones that were talking to in the most recent projects, they are really beginning to understand that they might have to do some things that are a little more out of their norm relative to, to appealing to visitors because they still wanna make sure that obviously, they are achieving their goals, relative educational standards and things like that, but, but certainly the competition for time has really increased. So I think I think in general museums are starting to think about different ways of, of curing the experience for individuals in really beginning to connect to, to visitors emotions in, in different ways. Even though the, the objective of busy of may not be for providers to come in and learn something or at least not. To, to be able to go down a list of facts that they learned about a certain topic, which, you know, somebody might say his is their objective. I think people learn things going to parks. For example, if a if a kid is at a certain age, where they're they've been fearful of roller coasters, but they did they get brave, and they decide to, to get on a roller coaster. They're learning something important important about themselves. And the fact that they're put into a an experienced, it's really special and over the top, and different from their everyday experience, it inspires them at an opens up their, their world of thinking when thinking about museums as a medium. It's useful to look at theme parks to he parks and themed attractions are an incredibly young medium. And I if wonderful look back at the recent big immersive theme park experiences like the Wisden world of Harry Potter and the new galaxies edge Star Wars land and see a golden age of themed attractions, like the golden. Ages of film, gone by what role museums plan all this remains to be seen, but it all comes down to what people think of when they hear the word museum at the beginning of this episode what did you think of museums will continue to resist categorization? But I wonder if the trend for the largest, most visited and best funded museums of the world will continue to be towards themed, attractions, the carefully choreographed visitor experience at the space shuttle, Atlantis might make its way to history, museums. And when that happens, you'll hear about it on museum archipelago. Club archipelago members get access to a bonus podcast feed this week, on club archipelago, a collection of thoughts about the role of trust between people sponsoring exhibits who are emotionally close to the topics and outside contractors who do the nuts and bolts. Join today at patriotair dot com slash museum. Archipelago. This has been museum are Pelivan. You'll find a full transcript of this episode belong with shown at museum, archipelago dot com. If this is your first show, don't forget to subscribe for free in your favorite podcast player. Thanks for listening and next time. Bring a friend.

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