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Behind-The-Scenes of NASA’s Roving with Perseverance Exhibit Installation at the Adler Planetarium

Image Header: NASA’s Roving with Perseverance traveling exhibit in the Adler Planetarium’s Our Solar System exhibit. 

If you work at the Adler Planetarium, you’ll be part of some pretty interesting things. But it’s not every day that you get to be part of a new exhibit installation, especially one from NASA! There is so much that goes into an installation, and after 6 months of dreaming up ideas, we’re giving you the inside scoop from our staff about what it took to get this stellar exhibit to Our Solar System gallery.

Welcome To The Windy City, Percy, And Ginny

On the sunny morning of June 29, 2022, we welcomed NASA’s Roving with Perseverance traveling exhibit to sweet home Chicago. The full-scale models of both the Mars Perseverance rover and its famous and historical sidekick helicopter Ingenuity had a long journey to our space museum! Several twin models of Percy and Ginny (as they are so fondly nicknamed) have been traveling the country over the last year and the two models seen at the Adler came to us all the way from the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City. After arriving by truck in a large crate, with some elbow grease and determination, we had one of the coolest unboxing moments ever!

Image Caption: Here is the large crate that the replica model of the Mars rover, Perseverance, arrived in.

John Beckman, Director of Exhibit Design and Production, worked closely with NASA JPL to coordinate this exhibit coming to our space museum. He said, “I’m really glad to have something new to offer our guests after being closed for so long. And especially something so current and relevant.”

Image Caption: Perseverance being revealed as the crate is opened!

A Safe Trip To Our Solar System Exhibit

With the excitement of a new exhibit arriving to the Adler Planetarium filling the atmosphere, we still needed to safely get these objects inside. Ingenuity is small and was able to be carried indoors quickly and easily. Perseverance, however, is much bigger, about the size of a small car, and about 900 pounds! We needed to make sure we could get the model inside our doors as carefully as possible. Thankfully, we have a team of exhibit operation experts that could ensure a safe trip for Percy. QuoVadis Raines, Manager of Exhibit Operations, had a big hand in this.

Image caption: Adler staff and contract workers beginning to lift Perseverance onto a dolly to be rolled inside.

“My role was to make sure the rover made it off the shipping truck, through the building to the upper level and into its current space. Once it was safely placed into its location, we attached the rover wheels to the main structure of the rover, assembled Ingenuity, and hung it up in the gallery for all to come lookup and see!”

Spoiler alert, Perseverance did indeed make it safely inside!

Percy had to have its six wheels removed, then was gently lifted onto a dolly, rolled through hallways, and took a rather mundane ride in an elevator to get upstairs to Our Solar System exhibit. Though the real rover had an adventurous 7-month space flight to Mars, we were perfectly fine with this replica model having a “boring” adventure upstairs.

Image caption: Perseverance rolling into Our Solar System exhibit.

Installing Perseverance

At this point, there was a huge sigh of relief among everyone that everything made it inside safely. But, the real work was just beginning!

“Whenever a loan comes in for exhibition, we have to conduct a Condition Report on the object. That means we have to inspect the object all over for any damage or conservation issues. Typically, at the Adler, this is done for things like books, paintings, telescopes, or astrolabes. This was the first time I had ever had to do a Condition Report on something so big and complex. It took us four hours to inspect the entire rover from top to bottom for damage/issues,” said Chris Helms, the Adler’s Collection’s Manager.

After Chris finished up the Condition Report, the installation could start.

Image Caption: Perseverance sitting inside exhibit space. Michelle Nichols, Director of Public Observing, holding a set of rover wheels.

The rover on Mars has many different instruments so it can study the composition of rocks and soil on the planet. On the end of the robotic arm includes a drill, WATSON camera, and SHERLOC instrument, which are used to collect air, rock, and soil samples. To date, Perseverance has taken over 100,000 images, collected six samples of Martian rock, discovered organic molecules in the Jezero crater, and more!

Our Senior Exhibit Designer, Orilla Fetro, has extensive experience creating exhibits and experiences for our museum guests. She said, “With an object this large, there is a little anxiety around will it fit and whether our calculations are accurate. Unboxing and placing it in the space was my most exciting part. Until I saw the object, it was only a rectangle footprint on a floorplan for dimension purposes. Placing it, it took on a persona. We gave it a pose, and it looks like it has a little face happily roaming the floor for interesting rocks.”

Image Caption: Perseverance arm being maneuvered and placed in a way for guests to see all its mechanics.

The Finishing Touches 

Ingenuity needed lots of attention during its installation. With the help of a forklift, a very tall ladder, and some steady hands, Ginny was hung successfully and is ready to photo bomb your selfies!

Image Caption: Two Adler Staff, John Beckman (on ladder), and QuoVadis Raines (on lift) hanging Ingenuity.

The final steps of the exhibit installation were informative graphics being placed around the exhibit so museum guests can learn all about these two Mars exploring instruments. These were designed and placed by Fetro! Fetro got her inspiration for these graphics from pop culture and named them “Ziggy Stardust” labels. Take a look at the graphics and you can see where the name comes from—IYKYK.

Image Caption: Graphic being placed on exhibit display.

Come Visit Roving With Perseverance

Cue the clapping, high-fives, and “we did it” cheers! NASA’s Roving with Perseverance exhibit was finally standing tall and ready to be explored by all.

Image Caption: Perseverance and Ingenuity sitting in finished exhibit space.

You’ve got the scope of what went on for this traveling exhibit to be set up and installed, now it’s your turn to see these models up close and marvel at these space rock explorers!

Image Caption: Adler Staff standing in front of the new NASA Roving with Perseverance exhibit.

Explore More 

Learn how the alleged observation of “canals” on Mars helped set the scenes for an enduring fascination with the red planet in our Google Arts & Culture online exhibition.

View our A Martian Sensation: Maps, Delusion, and the Mars Canals Exhibit

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