Exhibit marries Disney style and NASA know-how

Sunday, January 20, 2002

JACKSON, Miss. -- Developers of a multimillion-dollar space attraction on the Mississippi Gulf Coast hope they can lure 500,000 visitors a year with a little "shake, rattle and roar."

The yet-unnamed, $50 million-plus attraction will be a marriage of Disney style and NASA know-how, featuring hands-on exhibits and simulations that highlight Mississippi's contributions to the U.S. space program, organizers say.

The 60,000-square-foot facility is planned along heavily traveled Interstate 10 near NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County. The highway, already a key route to Mississippi's Gulf Coast casinos, connects the nation's east and west coasts.

"Everything the United States has put in space has come through Mississippi," says Rod Hartung of Pascagoula, part of a volunteer group spearheading the project. "Every rocket engine is tested at Stennis before it's put into use. We want people to know that and more."

A big attraction will be an exhibit that simulates the test-firing of a Space Shuttle engine. People will be able to see, hear and feel the fiery breath of an engine during a mock blast.

Also planned:

  • A large-screen, Imax-type theater.

  • A lunar module, space suit and other items from past space flights.

  • A large restaurant with Southern fare.

  • A Mississippi heritage display.

  • Other interactive exhibits that showcase the state's high-tech and environmental achievements.

    Final designs for the project are not yet complete. Hartung, a retired Chevron executive, and other volunteers plan to soon release drawings, specific costs, construction timetables and other information.

    For now, they're hoping to open the attraction in 2004.

    Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association in Washington, D.C., says the Stennis attraction should become an appealing offering for tour bus operators in the region.

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