TAMPA — Four-year-old Ryan Gill sat on his father's lap as the two navigated the moon's rough, powdery terrain.
Dressed in a NASA space suit — his Halloween costume this year — Ryan spotted the sun along the horizon.
"Go there!" he shouted.
"You can't drive to the sun," said his dad, Tracy Gill, a project manager for NASA. "It's millions of miles away."
Gill and his son were not in space. They were at Thursday's "sneak peek'' of the Museum of Science & Industry's new exhibition, "Mission: Moonbase," which gives visitors a glimpse of what life could be like inside a lunar colony in 2070.
"We're giving this opportunity to let anybody from 2 to 92 experience going to the moon without actually going," museum president Wit Ostrenko said before opening the silver doors leading to the colony. "It is not a ride. It is an experience."
After more than three years in development, "Mission: Moonbase" will make its public debut Saturday. It was created by MOSI and NASA officials, Ostrenko said. The project cost $2 million, with $1.2 million from a NASA grant.
A pair of automatic doors opens into the 2,500-square foot permanent exhibition. Inside, a screen on the ground shows a simulation of the earth as it slowly moves away from the shuttle headed toward the colony.
Moments later, more doors glide open to reveal the colony.
Among the features inside is a simulation ride, where Gill and his son found themselves Thursday morning.
There also tables with interactive screens where visitors can zoom in on animated flash cards for fun facts about the moon, along with stations where people can control the daily operations of the colony, including horticulture and water processing.
"I'm amazed. I'm 100 percent amazed," said Lauren Brown, an eighth-grader at Stewart Middle Magnet School.
Laura C. Morel can be reached at (813)226-3386, or firstname.lastname@example.org.