Nicki Brunner and her daughter built a virtual city on Mars Thursday while exploring the Science Museum of Minnesota's new exhibit, "Space: An Out-of-Gravity experience."
Mabel Brunner, 3, used magnets with different shapes and symbols to assemble the model city. She built schools, roads, factories and cars, while her mother encouraged her.
"You are smart," said her mother, who works for a consulting company. "What else do you want? Water?"
Nicki Brunner, 34, said she doesn't expect people to live on Mars during her lifetime. "But I would not put it past us for it to be in her lifetime," she said, holding her daughter. "Which is a little frightening."
The mother and daughter were among people who came to the exhibit's premiere to get hands-on experience of what it takes to live and work away from Earth.
The exhibit, which opens to the public Friday, will allow visitors to explore interactive exhibits and multimedia while learning about the physics of a space launch and the challenges of living in space.
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Visitors can view historical relics, like the gloves Neil Armstrong wore on his moon mission, and experiment with water rockets. They can also take a virtual tour of one of the labs aboard the International Space Station.
On Thursday, NASA astronaut Mike Fossum was on hand to answer questions about how people in space eat, sleep and go to the bathroom.
"Going to the bathroom has to be done correctly," he said. "We use airflow to make the waste go where it is supposed to go, and it takes a little bit more time than just running into the bathroom and doing your business and running back out."
Fossum said that before they can use the toilet, astronauts must prepare a system of pumps and fans. Since everything in space floats, toilets work like vacuums, he said. They suck away waste and send it on to a disposal system.
Fossum first went to space in 2006 on the Space Shuttle Discovery.
He said he was born two months after the Russians launched the first artificial satellite in 1957. "I grew up in the Space Age. I grew up cheering the Apollo mission and the landings on the moon," he said.
Fossum said the strangest experience he had in orbit was walking in space. He has done it seven times. "There is no way to completely mentally prepare yourself for the shock of what it's like to be hanging onto a space station over 200 miles above the earth, moving 17,000 miles an hour," he said.
During his free time on the space station, Fossum said he enjoyed looking back at earth. "It is always so amazing to watch the continents roll by, to see the farm fields here in the Midwest," he said.
Minneapolis and St. Paul "really are the Twin Cities," he added. "At night you really see them. They are almost a mirror image of each other."
The multi-million-dollar exhibit is partly funded by NASA. It runs through Sept. 7.