Chabot Space and Science Center reopens with ‘The NASA Experience’

Visitors test mini Astrobee space robots at Chabot Space and Science Center. (Photo courtesy Chabot Space and Science Center)

Astronauts make reaching for the stars look easy. But the truth is, science and space exploration are about trying, testing, making mistakes and trying again. 

“The NASA Experience,” a new exhibition at Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, captures the spirit of research and discovery by showing us the world through the eyes of NASA’s scientists and space crews. “The NASA Experience” features artifacts and activities for all ages, and it’s the highlight of Chabot’s reopening Friday that follows 18 months of construction.

“The NASA Experience” is part of the Chabot’s new NASA Ames Visitor Center, and it’s guided by the work that happens at the NASA Ames Research Center near Mountain View. 

Space immersion

If you’re thinking about what you want to be when you grow up, this may be the show for you — the exhibition is all about getting hands-on experience with what it’s like to work in space exploration.

Visitors will find profiles of the many people and jobs at NASA, and they can build and test their own rover, plane and space robot, says Mary Catherine Frantz, Chabot’s communication manager. The exhibition also features more than 30 artifacts, including an enormous, 80-foot-by-120-foot wind tunnel blade that will blow your mind.  

Visitors check out the astronaut suit designed and worn by Ed Gibson for the Skylab 4 mission that launched in 1973. Skylab was NASA’s first attempt at building and sustaining a long-term space station, according to Chabot staff. (Photo courtesy Chabot Space and Science Center)

It takes about an hour or more to do all of the hands-on activities in “The NASA Experience,” Frantz says.

Staff are excited to welcome visitors back to the center after an 18-month closure that started in March 2020. This has been the largest refresh of the center since 2000, and includes new signage, a new gallery and many new opportunities for learning, says executive director Adam Tobin. 

Bay Area inspiration

“The NASA Experience” may be about what happens in the sky, but it has firm roots in the Bay Area. Chabot has collaborated with the NASA Ames Research Center for decades, Tobin says. The new namesake visitor center launches a new level of partnership between the two groups. 

Visitors build their own rovers at the Chabot Space and Science Center. (Photo courtesy Chabot Space and Science Center)

Other aspects of the partnership include Chabot’s “Learning Everywhere” initiative that collaborates with schools, public libraries, government agencies and community-based organizations and brings NASA content and artifacts to people across the East Bay. The partnership also develops connections between NASA’s career opportunities and Chabot’s youth development programs, Frantz says. 

“Underneath all of our work together is a goal of deeper equity and inclusion, and a specific opportunity to close the persistent STEM gap for women and people of color,” Tobin says.

Reopening festivities

“The NASA Experience” expands peoples’ horizons at a time marked by isolation and questions about the value of science.

“It’s important for people, especially children, to see themselves as scientists and recognize the many varied pathways to STEM careers,” Frantz says. “This past year illustrated the importance of science education. Not only to make sure the next generation is prepared to fill the shoes of today’s science leaders, but also to create an informed citizenry.”

Chabot Space and Science Center has planned three days of festivities and extended hours from Friday to Sunday.

Visitors try out driving rovers at Chabot Space and Science Center. (Photo courtesy Chabot Space and Science Center)

Reopening weekend highlights include visits from astronaut Dr. Yvonne Cagle and demonstrations by Galaxy Explorers, high school students who participate in Chabot’s hands-on education and community service program. 

The teens will guide visitors in building and testing their own rovers in the Roverscape, a landscaped courtyard with rocks and surfaces that are just like what you’d find at NASA Ames in Silicon Valley. Galaxy Explorers will also lead a robotics activity that simulates Astrobees — robots that work in zero gravity at the International Space Station. 

Staff says it’s best to buy timed tickets in advance and check the website for visitor guidelines. “The NASA Experience” is not a permanent exhibition, but Chabot staff say their hope and expectation is the exhibition will be ongoing. There is no formal end date.

The Chabot Space and Science Center reopens on Friday with a new NASA Ames Visitor Center that will feature “The NASA Experience” exhibition. (Photo courtesy Chabot Space and Science Center)

For its Reopening Weekend Celebration, Chabot Space and Science Center at 10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland, will be open 5-10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.- 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Going forward, hours will be 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.) The center is reopening to limited capacity, and timed tickets are required. Every guest over the age of 2 will be required to wear a mask. Tickets are $19 for children over the age of 2, students and seniors, and $24 for general admission. For more information, visit

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