Space Odyssey

Bruce Manners is a down-to-earth guy with otherworldly concerns.

Space Station Great Lakes Science Center, 601 Erieside Avenue Noon, 2, and 4 p.m. daily (closed Christmas Day) through March 14. $7.95, $5.95 for kids; call 216-694-2000.
When Bruce Manners's beeper goes off, it could be the guys at the construction site. Not from any local work area, mind you, but from one 250 miles up in space, where astronauts are assembling the International Space Station.

"If [they have] an urgent question, they can reach me 24-7," says Manners, a deputy system manager at NASA Glenn Research Center who oversaw the design and construction of the station's solar panels.

The challenge of putting these pieces together in the weightlessness of space is the focus of Space Station, an IMAX movie showing at the Great Lakes Science Center. Footage for the film was taken by the succession of astronauts who have ventured to the station over the last few years, each team carrying up another girder, module, or solar panel to be added to the "world's largest jigsaw puzzle."

"[The movie] gives you a good feel for what it's like to live and work in space," explains Manners, who first saw the film in a theater packed with children. "The kids kept jumping out of their seats, trying to grab the tools and other things that seem to come right at you."

Though the 50-minute flick includes several thunderous rocket launches, most of it is set in the silence of space, documenting how astronauts eat, shower, and exercise. Breaking through the quiet is the narration of Tom Cruise.

And there are spacewalks -- several of which involve installation of the 112-by-39-foot solar panels, which are crucial to the functioning of the space station. During the part of each orbit that the station is in the sun, the panels must capture and convert the solar energy. If they fail, the station would have only enough power to last two more orbits.

Though the space station movie will be in town for only a few months, Manners will keep watch over the real thing for years to come.

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