Most people look at a jungle gym and see a jungle gym, or look at a Mylar balloon and see a Mylar balloon. But Craig Wilson looks at the former and visualizes the perfect components for building a space station. And the balloon? A lunar volleyball, of course.
The ability to see what others don’t and transform ideas into reality is the reason Wilson is the lead fabricator of exhibits for the San Diego Air & Space Museum.
His latest creation is Moon Base San Diego. The family-friendly, interactive exhibit is designed for kids (although adults are sure to learn a thing or two) and aims to teach them what it would be like to live and work on the moon.
“I was approached last summer by the curatorial and education departments and asked if I had any ideas about making a moon-base play area for kids ages 1 through 12,” said Wilson, who has been building the museum’s exhibits for six years. “Although I’ve never been involved in making a space meant solely for kids, inspiration came almost in a flash, probably due to my love of sci-fi. I could just see (the exhibit) in my mind’s eye.”
The result is that pint-sized visitors can explore, among other things, study tables with microscopes (Wilson frequently changes what’s under the lens, but they always are common items such as fish scales or grains of salt); a hydroponic wall garden; and a mockup of a “lunar loo,” because, well, kids love bathroom talk.
The lifelong love of design and problem-solving has been both avocation and vocation for Wilson. As a kid, he spent many hours working with and for his parents and grandparents, owners of aviation industry-related enterprises in El Cajon.
He later went on to work for many companies around San Diego, working on “anything from airframes for stealth technology development to sport-bike racing fairings,” Wilson said. It’s been “a lifelong quest to broaden my skill set and experiences to enable me to build anything I can imagine.”
Our group — two grandmothers, two parents and three kids, ages 8, 6, and 4 — put the exhibit to the test. Grownups enjoyed a few rounds of moon volleyball, and the boys (8 and 6), found the NASA space capsule, the lunar loo, a temperature map and the microscopes worth their attention.
We got caught by surprise when the air-lock door made the big whoosh, simulating “the inevitable imbalance of air pressure from inside the habitat to the inside of the airlock,” Wilson said.
The effect wasn’t easy to create, though.
“(I had to bring a) high-pressure air line from the basement to the upstairs of a historical building that is built like a castle,” he said, but in the end, “I was able to convince everyone that it was imperative.”
The pressure line comes in pretty handy, too, when Wilson needs to reinflate the Mylar balloons.
Elsewhere in the museum: All ages gave thumbs-up to the short film “Legend of Apollo,” the perfect complement to visiting Moon Base, showing every half hour in the 36-seat, 3D/4D Zable Theater.
The film chronicles the 1971 exploits of Apollo 15 — the fourth moon landing and the first use of the Lunar Rover Vehicle. 3D glasses put viewers in the middle of the action during blast-off, the moon landing and exploring the surface of the LRV.
The 4D features are produced by the interactive theater seats, which rock, roll, and rumble with the various maneuvers of the rockets and spacecraft, and by wind gusts that blow from somewhere.
Another popular stop: “Full Throttle,” an interactive exhibit that involves touch screens and joysticks; hence magnets for 6- and 8-year-old boys. The video game allows users to design their planes by choosing various features based on speed and maneuverability.
Players fly their completed planes through an obstacle course on a second screen. The exhibit is designed so that even adults can do it.