Travel & Tourism

$9.8 million upgrade is unlike any other family-friendly attraction on the Coast

If you haven't been to Infinity Science Center before, or haven't visited in a while, there's now more wow for families looking for summer fun.

The facility just completed three years of improvements and innovations funded by the $9.8 million grant from Mississippi through BP early restoration.

"We're not a museum, we're a science center," said Jerry Levens, who serves on the Infinity board of directors. "Please touch," he invites families.

Kids can make waves, journey to the bottom of the sea, build a hurricane and experience vivid adventures in the new 3-D movie theater.

"I know the kids are going to love it. The adults are going to love it," Gary Rikard, director of Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, said at the May 16 ribbon cutting for the Earth Gallery.

This is one of five projects funded with Mississippi's $100 million grant from BP and one of the first projects done, he said.

"The one thing youngsters need is a spark," said Clyde Dease Jr. of Picayune, a retired NASA scientist who attended the ribbon cutting at Infinity.

Here are some of the new ways Infinity provides that spark:

Deep Ocean Explorer — simulator virtually "dives" to the depths of the Gulf, complete with rumbling seats and life-like digital dolphins and turtles swimming past the portals. Claim a seat at the center consoles with joysticks and monitors and see how you'll respond to a disaster similar to what took place during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf.

Lay of the Land — is a three-part experience. Visitors shape the land in a topographical sandbox and flood it with digital water. Then move buildings around a coastal city and find out what happens to them during a flood. Finally, enter your address and see how high your home sits above sea level.

Making Waves — Lets kids create digital waves by jumping up and down.

Hurricane Prediction Lab — If you make it the right size, your hurricane will be named for you and you can see the resulting destruction on the evening news.

3-D theater — showing award-winning Earth and space films.

XSPHEREience Theater — presentations throughout the day on topics such as electricity, walking in space and exploring Mars.

Odyssey Gift Shop – Features cool toys, astronaut ice cream and NASA, Navy, NOAA and other logo shirts, videos and toys.

Outdoor adventures – Butterfly Gardens, Biome Boardwalk through forests and swamps.

Included in admission is bus tour of nearby NASA Stennis Space Center and rocket test stands where NASA tests rockets.

Additional $3 per person charge for 45 minute, 6 mile excursion on an electric tram to the Possum Walk Tram Tours to Logtown, an abandoned town that existed almost a century ago.

Highlights of the second floor Space Gallery are the Apollo 4 capsule now on display along with a view of the huge Apollo 19 Saturn V rocket that was brought to Infinity and is being restored.

"We built a place we can all be proud of," said Infinity Executive Director John Wilson. He has worked since 2002, along with Apollo 13 astronaut and Biloxi native Fred Haise and others, to get Infinity built to inspire the next generation.

Summer camps at Infinity give local kids in second through 10th grades a chance to learn about space and the oceans. Science Saturdays are designed for families with children ages 6-15 to explore science together.

Richard Gilbrech, director of NASA Stennis Space Center, said Infinity is a front door to the work being done there and provides kids with hands-on experience they can get excited about.

The next milestone comes on Nov. 14, Haise's 85th birthday, when the Space Gallery and its new attractions will be rededicated at Infinity.

If you go:

Where: Exit 2 off Interstate 10

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday (until 5 p.m. Memorial Day to Labor Day). Closed Sunday.

Admission: $15 for adults (age 14-54), $12 for seniors age 55+ and military, $8 for children age 4-13. Ages 3 and under free. Ticket includes bus tour of Stennis Space Center. $3 additional charge for Possum Walk tram tour.

Details: 228-533-9025