Exploration learning center opens

Published 2:19 pm Thursday, April 12, 2012

Doors were opened Wednesday morning to a new educational attraction for children and adults.

INFINITY, located next to the Mississippi Welcome Center on Interstate 10 in Hancock County , will feature exhibits formerly offered at StennisSphere, which was located on the grounds of Stennis Space Center, and a number of new experiences from interactive videos to replicas of notable artifacts.

A major purpose of the new center is to increase interest in science, technology and exploration, especially among the young.

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Wednesday’s event gave media and local leaders an opportunity to tour the new facility, which will feature new attractions on a regular basis.

Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) hopes that INFINITY will inspire today’s children to seek a career as an astronaut, engineer, chemist or in some other area of science or technology. Today, only about 15 percent of American children seek careers in fields based on science, technology or math, compared to 50 percent in countries such as China

“Truly the students today are the future,” Palazzo said.

A tour of the facility will display to visitors exploration advancements made by NASA, and discoveries made during historic explorations made long before NASA, or even the United States, existed. Visitors also will be able to explore the Earth, Mercury and other planets in our solar system through the Science on a Sphere display.

Before the ribbon cutting took place, Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise, who was an instrumental supporter of INFINITY, was honored with the dedication of a statue of an eagle created by Marlin Miller.

Miller used a live oak killed by Hurricane Katrina and parts from a space shuttle to create the large statue. Broken rotor, turbine and fan blades from the shuttle donated by Stennis Space Center made up one wing, the claws and other parts of the mostly wooden statue placed in front of INFINITY.

Gov. Phil Bryant and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) hope INFINITY will help increase the percentage of America’s students moving into technology based careers.

“The best days of Stennis are in the future and the best days of NASA are yet to come,” Wicker said during his speech.

State Sen. Tony Smith of Picayune said the addition of INFINITY to the Interstate 10 corridor will be an asset for Pearl River and Hancock counties, and a great economic development tool for the state.

State Sen. Philip Moran of Kiln said about 13 million cars pass by the Hancock County Welcome Center each year, and locating INFINITY right off I-10 is key to bringing in visitors.

“We want to get as many off the highway as we can to come and visit,” Moran said.

Bryant said his family moved to Picayune in 1965 when his father took a job at what would become Stennis. Bryant noted that space exploration comes through Hancock County and he hopes technological advancements made during previous NASA missions will continue through the children who tour INFINITY.

“We’ve come a long way, but we’ve just begun,” Bryant said.