As the Cartersville venue's curator, Gray -- along with his fellow coworkers -- is delighted that the museum currently is offering patrons a look inside some of America's most prominent aircraft and space shuttles. On display through Nov. 13, "At the Controls" is the first temporary exhibit on loan from the Smithsonian Institution that Tellus has acquired since becoming a Smithsonian affiliate in 2009.
"We're a Smithsonian affiliate, so we're starting to take advantage of some of the things they have to offer, which are exhibits like this," Gray said. "[In 'At the Controls'], we've got 17 panels on exhibit. They are oversized photographs of the inside of the cockpits of historic airplanes and spacecraft. So I think a lot of people are going to love to get up close to these things. There's some information on the panels that tell about the aircraft and some cool facts about them. ... I think my favorite for a number of reasons is the space shuttle Columbia.
"Of course, the Columbia was lost in flight in 2003, and there are a number of things that I like about [its photograph]. First of all, the space shuttle program is coming to an end next month. So this is a chance to look in the cockpit of a space shuttle, something that people would not actually [be able] to get into except for a simulator. And the other thing about it is, that of course, the Columbia is gone. This photograph is now a historic artifact. So it's a piece of history as well as something very cool and connected with this 30-year era of exploration that's coming to an end next month," he said, referring to NASA's space shuttle program. "So it's definitely one of my favorites in the exhibit."
In addition to the Columbia, the exhibit -- from the National Air and Space Museum's collection -- also features photographs from aircraft, such as Charles Lindbergh's "The Spirit of St. Louis," which recorded the first solo transatlantic flight in 1927, and "Enola Gay," a Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II. Along with viewing the images of Smithsonian photographers Mark Avino and Eric Long, patrons will be able to learn more about the process of capturing the cockpit pictures during Long's presentation July 8 at 7 p.m.
With "At the Controls" displayed inside the Science In Motion Gallery, Gray believes it complements the gallery's spotlight on the evolution of transportation technology.
"It's a perfect tie in," he said, adding the temporary exhibit also includes an Apollo spacecraft guidance computer's Display and Keyboard and a space shuttle mockup's interactive panels. "Some of the other things in the exhibit [space] are for instance a replica of the Wright Flyer. There's a Bell helicopter in the exhibit. ... There are three panels that are related to space exploration, and we have several exhibits from Apollo [and] Mercury.
"We have a Mercury capsule on exhibit currently and there's a photograph of the Mercury Friendship 7, which is the craft that John Glenn flew in his historic first orbiting. He was the first American to orbit the Earth in Friendship 7. So we have that tie in. So I think it's a perfect blend. It almost looks like it belongs here permanently."
Along with touring the "At the Controls" exhibit this week, patrons also will be able to examine the images during RockFest on June 11, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and June 12, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Regarded as one of Tellus' largest events of the year, RockFest drew about 3,000 people last year. In addition to about 40 vendors selling items ranging from fine jewelry to minerals, the annual event also will feature activities for children.
"People come out to the museum to see all kinds of unique mineral and fossil specimens, and we have samples in the store. But this gives them a bigger variety of items to choose from what they want to purchase," said Tellus Executive Director Jose Santamaria. "But it's really an event celebrating rocks and minerals and geology. So we do have in addition to the vendors that are selling their material, we have educational activities. We have mineral identification. So it's kind of more like a rock-oriented day. ... This is what Tellus is all about now.
"We're really seeing all of our events in general attract a lot of families wanting have the shared experience. It's educational but it's also fun. It's an experience that every generation can enjoy and enjoy together and have something to talk about during the event and afterwards. [Through this event I hope people gain] more appreciation and awareness, first of all. Mineral collecting -- it's a fine hobby. It's a family-type of hobby and [this event is] giving people access to find things they would not normally find anywhere. Some of the jewelry is very unique [and] the fossil specimens -- it's quite a range."
Nearing the 500,000 mark
Encompassing 120,000 square feet at 100 Tellus Drive in Cartersville, Tellus is comprised of four main galleries -- The Weinman Mineral Gallery, The Fossil Gallery, Science In Motion and The Collins Family My Big Backyard -- a 120-seat digital planetarium and an observatory. Since it opened January 2009, the museum has attracted nearly 500,000 visitors. Tellus is drawing about 200,000 people annually, a quarter of whom are students.
"We're delighted with the visitation that we've had," Santamaria said. "One thing we're working on is doing more things to keep the museum fresh, keep things new and keep things exciting for the public. So we are working on bringing more exhibits, either temporary or long-term loans through the Smithsonian, and just keeping up the level of activity -- the events, the workshops, the lectures -- keep that up to get people really excited and impress upon people there's always something new here.
"Speaking of which, [we have a] new planetarium show. It's a planetarium show that's more fun than science, but it's still science. It's a roller coaster ride on different planets, so that's neat in itself. The additional thing is that we've commissioned a local band fronted by Maggie Smith -- she's a local musician -- to write the music for it. ... So this is part of what we're trying to do to keep things fresh."
XFINITY Science Saturdays
Also under way are the museum's recently unveiled offerings -- XFINITY Science Saturdays and Xploration Stations.
On XFINITY Science Saturdays, Tellus is partnering with Comcast for networks like National Geographic Channel, The Weather Channel, Science Channel and The History Channel to present a video every hour on the hour in the theater. In the next two months, the shows provided by the National Geographic Channel will be "Naked Science: Birth of Earth," June 11; "The 12,000 Bottle Boat," June 18; "Ultimate Factories: Caterpillar," June 25; "Naked Science: Secret World of Fireworks," July 2; "Moon Mysteries," July 9; "Jurassic CSI," July 16; "Earth Under Water," July 23; and "How to Build a Volcano," July 30.
During XFINITY Science Saturdays, Xploration Stations will be set up in the museum. At these stations, Tellus staff will provide insights into an area of science and perform an experiment, such as a small exploding volcano, or lead a hands-on activity.
As with RockFest, XFINITY Science Saturdays and Xploration Stations will be included in regular admission to Tellus -- $12 for adults, $10 for individuals 65 and older, and $8 for children ages 3 to 17 and students with ID -- and free for museum members and active military personnel with ID. For more information about the museum and its upcoming events and programs, call 770-606-5700 or visit www.tellusmuseum.org.