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Space exploration and the study of the night sky captivate the imagination. There’s any number of animated shows, movies and books inspired by the idea of visiting other planets and traveling to infinity and beyond.

But the true science of space and the study of astronomy can be exciting, too. Here are 10 ways Pittsburgh kids can explore space right in our own backyard.


Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing mission, poses beside the United States flag. Photo courtesy of NASA

  1. Witness moon landing history

The thrill begins when passing through the gantry walkway into “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission.” Steam rises along the deep orange piping and grate flooring, just as it did when astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins entered the command module 50 years ago.

That moon landing anniversary is part of the excitement of this Smithsonian exhibit at Senator John Heinz History Center. Don’t miss the chance to see the Command Module Columbia, the first time it has left its home at the National Air and Space Museum since 1971. Pittsburgh is one of just four cities to host this exhibit.

Kids will find lots of cool interactive stuff to inspire astronaut dreams, like the lunar lander video game and a 3-D virtual tour of Columbia’s interior. A display of moon- and space-related games and toys shows the exhilaration that gripped the country. You’ll find great spots for photos ops through the module’s window and in the standup astronaut cutouts.

The story of how 400,000 Americans helped the race to the moon succeed is rather intriguing. Even more fascinating is how Pittsburgh companies and innovators contributed to the space program. Pittsburgh-invented prototypes – like the telescoping flagpole holding the US flag upright on the moon – are part of the 100-plus artifacts in the exhibit.

“Destination Moon” will remain in Pittsburgh through Feb. 18 with loads of kid-friendly events planned.


SkyWatch opens the universe to young astronomers. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Science Center

  1. Tour the night sky

The monthly SkyWatch at Carnegie Science Center gives kids a chance to explore space on a personal level, beginning with a virtual tour of the night sky in the Buhl Planetarium. When the skies are clear – fingers crossed! – everyone heads up to the observatory to look through the 16-inch Meade LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. Examine stars, planets and the rings of Saturn. Of course, the more kids learn, the more questions they have. Happily, a team of astronomy experts is on hand with answers.

SkyWatch is priced at just $4, but if you bring your own telescope to share with others, admission is free. The program is presented at 7 and 9 p.m. to accommodate early bedtimes for kids.


The Allende Meteorite, left; Canyon Diablo Meteorite, center; and the Zagami Meteorite, right. Photos by Sally Quinn

  1. Touch a meteorite – and a piece of Mars!

Find a few out-of-this-world treasures in the Benedum Hall of Geology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Kids will learn that meteoroids – chunks of rocks flying through space – are called meteors once they break through Earth’s atmosphere, often glimpsed in the night sky as shooting stars. The fragments that land on Earth are meteorites.

The 496-pound Canyon Diablo Meteorite fragment invites hands to run over its smooth and bumpy surfaces. It was discovered in Arizona in 1891 near the town of Canyon Diablo.

A more recent meteorite fell in Nigeria in 1962. The Zagami Meteorite is believed to have come from Mars because it contains the same gasses found in the Martian atmosphere. Though relatively new to Earth, the rock might be around 170 million years old. The Zagami Meteorite fragment is encased in Plexiglass, but kids can slide their fingers in for a touch of the Red Planet.

Another rock that sparks imagination is an Allende Meteorite tucked into a corner of a display case. The rock is made of primitive planetary material formed about the same time as Earth. The Allende meteor showers landed near the village of Pueblito de Allende, Mexico, in 1969. A whopping 2 tons of meteorite debris were gathered, which allowed scientists to study them in anticipation of examining the first moon rocks.


Even little kids can develop an interest in the stars at Buhl Planetarium. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Science Center