Regular readers of my blog will know that I recently went to an event at Conkers and took advantage of their Stay Play Explore short break offer. For just £129 a family of four can visit any 3 of 5 world-class attractions including Conkers, National Space Centre, Twycross Zoo, Twinlakes Theme Park and Stonehurst Family Farm, plus enjoy overnight accommodation including breakfast at a choice of 4 star family friendly hotels. We stayed at Hinckley Island Hotel and you can read my review of our stay here.
We chose to visit the National Space Centre as the weather made a turn for the worse on the Sunday with torrential rain and gale force winds. It was just a half an hour drive from where we were staying and we arrived just before the 10am opening time. I hadn’t realised you had to pay for parking and didn’t have any change with me. I always assume everywhere has pay by phone parking or machines that accept cards these days, but these were cash only. Thankfully it is obviously a common problem and I could pay inside and they took a note of my number plate to ensure I didn’t get a ticket.
Upon arrival you will see the iconic Rocket Tower and the top of the UK’s largest domed planetarium and inside are six further inspiring galleries to discover. Crammed full of space suits, rockets, satellites, meteorites and planets the centre is packed full of breathtaking discovery and interactive fun. There are even dressing up clothes for the kids to wear as they explore and Isaac and Eliza got stuck in immediately.
I recommend arriving early as you get the whole centre to yourselves and can explore in peace in your own time. As it gets busier you have to queue for some of the popular interactive exhibits, especially in the rocket tower.
One of the first things we did was visit the planetarium to watch “We are Stars!” The 360º fulldome cinema experience is amazing, although Eliza didn’t like it at first. You get to explore the secrets of our cosmic chemistry, our explosive origins and discover what we are made of, where we come from and connect life on Earth to the evolution of the Universe. I wish I had seen it when I was at school as suddenly the world of physics became clear in a fun and enjoyable way.
The show lasted around half an hour and we headed back outside bubbling with even more enthusiasm than before and ready to explore. There are six zones in all and our first port of call was Exploring the Universe where we discovered the science behind the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and see the technology created here on Earth that is observing the Universe to further science and improve life on our planet. We even got to try a small Hadron Collider.
Next up was Orbiting the Earth where we discovered the satellites in space that make a real difference to our lives. Satellite navigation, weather forecasting, emergency disaster warnings and understanding the changes to our fragile planet are all highlighted here plus you can enter the Weather Pod and record your own weather forecast and even make your own weather by spinning a large globe.
Next stop were the Planets, where we got to walk through the gallery and stop off at Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. This was one of their favourite exhibits as they got to drive a moon buggy, see how much they weighed on different planets and try to life a baked bean can that was on the sun.
There was also a mini planetarium for kids, all about George the Spaceman who wanted to visit all the planets in our solar system. The kids had to dash to hit a button when they knew which planet he was visiting which was a great way of embedding their learnings from the centre and I was really impressed by how much they had taken in.
The Rocket Tower was next on their list and we headed over to the lift to start our journey, although you can take the stairs if you wish. You begin your journey and encounter real rockets before sitting back in an Edwardian cinema to see the first sci-fi movie ever made and blast off into space with the ultimate water rocket challenge.
Level 2 is all about leaving earth and the story of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. You can sit inside the Vostok Capsule and blast off into space with the help of the control pod next door. Level 3 is all about Neil and Buzz as Apollo 11 lands on the moon. Along with the last piece of genuine moon rock to be returned to Earth Kian challenged himself to pilot the “Eagle” onto the lunar surface and Isaac and Eliza went back in time to the 1960’s.
Finally we went Into Space where we walked through a mock up of the Columbus Module from the International Space Station, and found out the burning question of the day – how do you go to the toilet in space? We also got to see if we had the reaction times necessary for astronauts and Isaac had a physical too. The only thing we couldn’t do was the Blast Off experience where you become an astronaut on a Space Shuttle launch as the children were not tall enough.
We spent four hours in the National Space Centre and there were so many interactive exhibits that it held even Sebby’s attention for the whole time. I would love to go back and visit without the children though as no matter how hard you try to read every display it is impossible with a toddler in tow. It is also rare that Kian (14) enjoys our days out as much as the little ones, but this was one that he loved and it also helped him embed some knowledge in time for his Chemistry and Physics GCSE’s next year.