Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Questacon “Mission to Mars” win Interpretation

Questacon Mission to Mars, Interpretation Australia, November 2020

Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre (A Division of the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources)
2020: Creativity In A Crisis Award.

Questacon Mission to Mars reinterpreted and physically transformed our hands-on science centre into an immersive hands-free experience, allowing visitors to see our building, exhibits and performers like never before. The COVID safe product is a new guided experience that takes visitors on a journey from Earth to the red planet. Drawing on the performance and interpretation talent of our visitor-facing staff, the tour explores the science of this fascinating planet and the challenges humanity will need to overcome if we are ever to visit Mars. What are the medical risks of space travel? How will humans survive in Mars’ inhospitable atmosphere? Is there liquid water on Mars? What is below the surface of the planet? Why is Mars so similar to Earth and yet so very different?

From the launch of the rocket to the eventual touch down on the surface of the red planet, visitors are guided through selected Questacon exhibitions and enjoy a range of immersive learning experiences to gain the skills and knowledge needed to be the first humans on Mars. The journey concludes with a spectacular visit to our impressive seven-metre Mars globe, suspended in the inner gallery on the ground floor. This experience leaves our visitors with one final question – would you go to Mars?

Awards Submission

Part B Supporting Documentation

This year’s winners included:

  • Conjola Tours eco-tours;
  • Prospect 1838 for their outside installation of the history of Prospect, South Australia
  • Sydney Living Museums for their Songs of Home and their On the Move Exhibitions and
  • Questacon for Mission to Mars.

The Creativity in a Crisis category was added in 2020 in response to the COVID 19 Pandemic, and aimed to showcase the best national leaders in museum and tourism business redevelopment (or pivots to use the truly 2020 term) in the face of the challenges of 2020.  The win for Questacon in the context of the Government’s announcement of $1billion in investment in trying to revitalise the visitor economy nationally, demonstrates our ability to develop products for that market, as well as performing our various other roles as Australia’s science engagement agency.

On a personal note, this award is perhaps one of the most satisfying we have won in recent years.  It was a truly herculean effort to reimagine a 31-year long business model in 8 weeks, reopening our entirely hands-on facility in the face of very challenging COVID risk parameters, with regular advice back from local Government that we have been an exemplar in COVID safety.  In our research to date, we have yet to find any museums or science centre in the world that turned the entire facility into a wholly new experience to allow visitors to return for a physical visit, effectively turning the facility into a huge science theatre set. Many of our counterparts internationally were simply unable to reopen, or have reopened in highly restricted ways, only to close again as virus numbers climb.

The work of our teams in creating this new experience is not just about the performers and front of house staff, it extends to every team in Questacon including the exhibition concepts team working closely with our exhibition workshop to re-purpose exhibits, facilities team for moving, cleaning and cleaning, and cleaning…. to our design team for set design and new safety decals, our program teams for developing wholly new experiences and reinterpreted demonstrations, our commercial team for solving a decade long challenge with e-ticketing in about three weeks, our digital and public communications teams for new content that extended the experience beyond the physical visit, and our early childhood team, who created a wonderful new experience with the theme song “Zoom Zoom Zars, We’re Going to Mars” now permanently stuck in our heads!  Our thanks also will go to the c19 Taskforce, risk team, legal team, MRT and all of those across other divisions who have supported Questacon this year, with a special personal thanks to Robert Hanlon and Janean Richards for their amazing support.  We are sending a note to all of our colleagues in those areas to thank them for their support on this today also.

The awards were held virtually last night, so the best photo we have is the screenshot above.  The team are uploading the video that we did as part of our submission so that it can be shared on social media, and we will send a link to it when that comes through, as we understand that the video submission was what gave us an edge as it  allowed the judges to get a real feel for the Mission to Mars experience.  Hayley, who was watching the awards said this morning that her favourite judges comment was “the experiments are mesmerising, so too are the looks on the faces of the staff who clearly enjoy what they are doing”.


Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
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