NASA INFINITY Science Center
This little gem on the coast is nestled in Hancock County, Mississippi next to John C. Stennis Space Center. There used to be a visitor's center on the NASA property called the StenniSphere, but it closed and the INFINITY Science Center opened in 2012. This facility is massive and beautiful. It is maintained by a non profit organization now and they survive on admission fees and donations. It's not expensive to get in:
When I say this facility is big, I mean it's HUGE and every inch of it is covered in something educational. That may sound lame to some, but I assure you that the exhibits are interactive, interesting, AND educational.
They have everything from experiments where you can learn about your own reflexes to landing a space shuttle in a simulator. There is a large area on the main level that has all manner of building blocks to dazzle the mind and stimulate creativity in children of all ages. This is probably my favorite part about the place. I enjoy taking my nieces there and seeing what creations they come up with.
For the nerdier crowd in the room, there are also an awesome set of equations written across the glass elevator walls that only line up when the elevator is in position!
For the history buff, there is a full selection of launch patches from every mission hanging on the wall in the atrium. I love walking through this section, too. Most people don't realize that every patch has so much meaning to it and that every little detail represents something important to the mission.
Near the entrance, there is a theater that projects movies onto a sphere. Yes, a spherical screen that resembles a planet dangling from the ceiling. This thing was really cool and made beautiful planets during their videos. I went into one show and it was all about Jupiter and its moons. It was free to get into and lasted about 6 minutes.
Should you choose, you can take the bus tour of Stennis Space Center. It is included in the price of admission and lasts about 45 minutes. Stennis plays home to an engine test facility for rockets engines and you can see the test stands on the bus tour. There are a handful of stands on the site and they are HUGE! One of the main stands has more metal in it than the Eiffel Tower (or so said the tour guide). As a child, I attended an engine test of one of the smaller engines and we were allowed to sit close enough to the stands to feel the rumble.
After the tour, you can grab lunch if you want at the cafe they have at the INFINITY Center or kill some time in the gift shop. BUT, if you're more the creative type, then check out the building pit they have in the main lobby. There are blocks of a variety of sizes, straight tracks, curved tracks, hills, and even a little ball to roll through the track that you build. My family and I had the objective to see how far we could get the ball to roll without pushing it in the beginning. I can't help it. I love Physics.
The last thing I'm going to tell you about at this facility is the first stage of the Saturn V rocket sitting outside! This is a relatively new addition to the exhibits, but I believe its a permanent one. It's still getting concrete poured around it and permanent stands are being built, but it is parked there and it is huge. There is a placard on the second floor atrium (next to the International Space Station exhibit) that has some info about the first stage. Around it, there are also some lovely walking paths through some light wetlands that have signs about the different animals that live in the swamp.
I hope you get a chance to visit this awesome center at some point in your travels in or around the Gulf Coast. This is an inexpensive, fun, nerdy, and historic adventure for children of all ages. If you can't visit, send them some love by supporting their cause at their sponsor site.