Voyage on the National Mall

Installing a permanent exhibition on the National Mall in Washington, DC, is no easy task, requiring the same review and approval process as, e.g., the World War II and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorials. In fact the teams for these two national memorials, and the Voyage exhibition team, all presented at the same committee meetings for the two committees overseeing placement on the National Mall – the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capitol Planning Commission.

The concept for a model Solar System placed on the National Mall was the idea of Dr. Jeffrey Bennett, who was on the faculty at the University of Colorado – Boulder. He had overseen the design, writing, and installation of a 1 to 10-billion scale model Solar System on campus. In 1992, while he was on loan to NASA HQ in Washington, DC, as a visiting scholar, he proposed to then Director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Dr. Martin Harwit, the idea of placing a scale model Solar System on the Mall. Harwit thought it was worthy of a feasibility study, and assigned oversight of the project to Dr. Jeff Goldstein of the Museum’s Laboratory for Astrophysics.

The feasibility studies, preliminary design studies, and visitor pre-knowledge assessment for the Voyage on the National Mall exhibition were undertaken by the staff of the Laboratory for Astrophysics at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM) 1993-96. These activities included full definition of exhibition objectives and fundamental design parameters, development of preliminary design sketches, prototyping and assessment of storyboards, and completion of the formal approval process at NASM through the Museum’s Exhibits Committee. These activities were underwritten by NASM funds, internal Smithsonian competitive grants, and NASA IDEAS grant ED-90028.02-94A.

In October 1996, education programs of the Laboratory for Astrophysics, including Voyage, were moved to the Challenger Center for Space Science Education (CCSSE) as a result of a Reduction in Force at NASM. The programs moved with Principal Investigator J. Goldstein, together with grant funds and program staff. The Voyage program was then undertaken as a CCSSE-led initiative, 1998-2001, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and NASA. During this period, activities at CCSSE, the Smithsonian, NASA Headquarters, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center were underwritten by: NASA Headquarters’ Office of Space Science and Education Division through NASA grant NAG5-6786; significant internal funding from the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES); and NASA internal funds. Activities included final design development, formative assessment of design mockups, and fabrication and installation of the Mall exhibition. Voyage on the National Mall, a permanent exhibition along Jefferson Drive between the U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument, opened on October 17, 2001. Voyage was designed for replication and permanent installation at sites beyond the nation’s capital.

Voyage Replication – the Mark I Exhibition

In 2005, all NASA-funded education programs and staff associated with CCSSE’s Space Science Education and Research department were transferred to the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) to form the new National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE). All grant and contract awards to Principal Investigator Jeff Goldstein were novated by NASA from CCSSE to USRA, officially terminating these programs at CCSSE. This action was undertaken to ensure continuation of programs in light of a change in strategic direction at CCSSE. Voyage was one of the programs transferred.

A Voyage curriculum that embedded the exhibition experience within a multi-week unit on Solar System science and exploration, was created at CCSSE and revised at NCESSE/USRA. These materials were fully funded through NASA grants NAG5-12219 and NNG04GJ52G (an extension of grant NAG5-7764).

In October 2008, the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education separated from USRA and was re-established as a stand-alone non-profit under the fiscal sponsorship of Tides Center. At this time, NCESSE launched the Voyage National Program as the vehicle for replication and permanent installation of the exhibition.

Replicas of Voyage on the National Mall (designated the Mark I exhibition), at a cost of $180,000 – $240,000 per exhibition, were permanently installed in Kansas City, Missouri (opening day October 10, 2008),  Houston Texas, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (opening day November 14, 2008), and Corpus Christi, Texas (opening day July 18, 2009). All three exhibitions were fully funded before the onset of the financial crisis of 2007-08, with funding sources identified by NCESSE in support of these communities. NCESSE was also working to secure funds for lead organizations at an additional seven locations, including Liberty State Park, NJ, and the State Capitol grounds in Des Moines, IA. The financial crisis led to rapid termination of all fundraising, and Voyage replication was no longer deemed viable.

Voyage Replication – the Mark II Exhibition

In 2018, 17 years after installation of Voyage on the National Mall, Voyage replication was re-assessed, recognizing that fundraising for a copy of the National Mall exhibition would remain challenging given the cost. The high cost derived from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and National Capitol Planning Commission requirements for Voyage to conform to the ‘Mall aesthetic’ set forth by the McMillan Plan of 1902.

It was determined that if a significantly lower cost version of Voyage could be designed, which preserved both the visitor experience and much of the original design aesthetic, then a significant number of Voyage exhibitions could be permanently installed across the U.S., and even internationally. The success of the funding model for NCESSE’s Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, with a price point of roughly $25,000, demonstrated that NCESSE could effectively and rapidly assist a community in securing funding for a Voyage exhibition with a similar price point. In return for fundraising assistance, a community would submit an Implementation Plan that demonstrated how the exhibition would be actively used as a focal point for STEM education in perpetuity. Given these constraints, NCESSE and Exhibitology were able to design a low cost exhibition, if fabricated 5 exhibitions at a time. Designated the Mark II exhibition, the achievable price point of $37,500 was 1/5 the cost of a replica of Voyage on the National Mall. In 2020, the Mark II exhibition became available as part of a reconstituted Voyage National Program. Both Mark I and Mark II exhibitions are currently available.

Hosted & Managed by: Drew Roman

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