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Exploration Place receives $1.25 million NASA grant

Exploration Place recently received a $1.25 million grant for a new aviation exhibit. The donation pushes the science museum much closer to its $2 million fundraising goal.
Exploration Place recently received a $1.25 million grant for a new aviation exhibit. The donation pushes the science museum much closer to its $2 million fundraising goal. The Wichita Eagle

Bolstered by a grant of $1.25 million from NASA, Exploration Place is closer to its fundraising goal for its upcoming aviation engineering and manufacturing exhibit.

The grant, announced this week, will help fund the museum’s “Design Build Fly” exhibit – slated to open in December 2017 – as well as related education programs and events.

Exploration Place is one of nine grant winners selected from 73 applicants to NASA’s Competitive Program for Science Museums, Planetariums and NASA Visitor Centers Plus Other Opportunities. Grants ranged from approximately $420,000 to the $1.25 million allocated to Exploration Place.

“I think a major tipping point was that our proposal was so meaningful and had such a direct connection to our community,” said Jan Luth, Exploration Place president. “We put a lot of our heart and soul into this proposal, and we got a lot of assistance from the community.”

Luth said the exhibit and related programs will have a major focus on workforce development. She said she hopes it will inspire young people to choose a career in a STEM field – science, technology, engineering and math – and more specifically in aviation, a particular strength of Kansas higher education.

The exhibit will cover 5,100 square feet and include a hands-on factory setting, a deconstructed full-size plane, a lab modeled after real plane design and manufacturing facilities and dozens of interactive stations. Textron Aviation, Spirit AeroSystems, the Fidelity Family Foundation and the estate of Muriel C. Braden have contributed to the exhibit, which is expected to cost $2 million.

Between the NASA grant and other donations, Exploration Place has raised about $1.5 million toward the exhibit’s cost. Exploration Place would like to raise an additional $500,000 on top of the cost of the exhibit to endow it for the future, enabling the organization to make changes and improvements after it opens.

Fifteen new education programs will accompany the new exhibit, including two science shows, five exhibit places, two hands-on classes and new projects in its CreatorSpace hands-on activity center.

Exploration Place applied for the grant in December, waiting more than six months before hearing it had received the funding.

“We knew we had a fabulous project, but we also knew it was very competitive,” Luth said.

Exploration Place has been working on the “Design Build Fly” project for quite a few years, she said. The exhibit will be the museum’s second new permanent exhibit in just more than two years, following the opening of Kansas Kids Connect in September.

The traveling exhibit opens on May 28 at Exploration Place. Guests can control 14 interactive, recycled metal dinosaur sculptures with exposed mechanics, inspired by actual fossils. (video by Jaime Green/The Wichita Eagle)

The traveling exhibit "Guitar: The Instrument That Rocked the World" opens at Exploration Place this weekend. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a 44-foot-long Gibson Flying V, which the Guinness Book of World Records has certified as the world's l

Exploration Place opened a new exhibit called Kansas Kids Connection designed for children 5 years old and younger.

Madeline Fox: 316-268-6357, @maddycfox

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