Houston may have a problem but mission control is ready to launch in Kent.
After nearly five years of dreaming and planning, Space for Kidz lifts off at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, May 20.
“Please come celebrate this interactive and educational play space which promises to be fun for kids of all ages, while also inspiring future generations to pursue amazing careers in aerospace,” said Michelle Witham, city economic development director, in an email to promote the project.
City Parks Director Julie Parascondola couldn’t contain her enthusiasm.
“This park is truly unique and unlike anything in the region and the country,” Parascondola said in an email. “The combination of realism and exhibit-quality installations with the Lunar Rover replica and mural backdrop, combined with the interactive playful experience created with the Lunar Lander and mission control creates a completely immersive space-themed experience right in the heart of Kent’s urban core.”
Boeing designed, tested and built the Lunar Rover in 1969 for NASA at its Kent Space Center. The four-wheeled vehicles were last used during Apollo missions 15, 16 and 17 between 1971-72. Three of the Kent-built Lunar Rovers remain on the Moon today and were designated as King County historic landmarks in 2019 and Washington State Historic Landmarks in 2020.
“The park includes an interactive replica of the Lunar Rover along with a life-size astronaut against the backdrop of a mural wall showing actual photography of the moon surface obtained from NASA and taken during the Apollo 17 mission,” Parascondola said.
And there’s more.
“Complementing these two elements and creating a campus of space-themed play is a Lunar Lander play structure and mission control panel with interactive games, working switches and buttons and an intercom that allows kids to talk back and forth as they imagine their own space exploration mission,” Parascondola said.
While Boeing began the aerospace industry in Kent, other companies are continuing the legacy. Kent-based Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, opened in town in 2000. The company launched its first rides into space in 2021 and plans to someday have people living and working in space.
Starfish Space and Stoke Space Technologies are two newer Kent Valley companies started by former Blue Origin engineers.
“As long as America has been going to space, Kent has had a significant role,” Parascondola said. “It is still home to half of the jobs in Washington state’s growing space sector. Inspiring Kent’s young people to see themselves in STEM fields and encourage them to shoot for the stars is another hoped-for outcome of the project. The out-of-this-world career opportunities available are excitingly within reach here in Kent.”
Today’s technology advances will give park users a truly new experience.
“We’re excited to launch a free, Augmented Reality app which will allow kids to ‘launch a rocket from mission control’ and ‘drive a Lunar Rover on the Moon’s surface’ and many more immersive experiences,” Parascondola said. “We know of no other municipal park in the country that offers digital technology to provide kids an astronomical experience.”
In addition to all the space-themed play components, Parascondola said the park includes a completely renovated landscape with plaza spaces, new irrigated lawn, decorative seat walls, pedestrian lighting and new tables and seating.
“As a way to activate the blank wall of the adjacent building, the park now has a permanently installed projector that allows us to program the wall with visual art, movies in the park and other creative ideas,” she said.
The park project was fully funded through parks capital funds, Parascondola said.
“The attention to detail and quality of the urban design elements creates an inviting public space for all Kent residents and will be a destination for park and space enthusiasts across the region,” Parascondola said.
Space for Kidz
Celebratory launch of new space-themed park in downtown Kent, 307 W. Gowe St.
10:30 a.m, Saturday, May 20
• Engineering and launch crew recognition
• Imaginary rides on a Lunar Rover replica
• Earth sightings from inside a Lunar Lander play structure
• Rocket launches from mission control
• Celebrate the community’s continuing legacy in space exploration and help inspire today’s kids to pursue career opportunities in Kent