"Is this somewhere that I can take the kids to, or will they be bored?"
This is what I have often thought to myself as I have considered this day trip out from Canberra, so it was time that I found out.
When I originally heard about Canberra's Deep Space Communications Complex, I was excited at the idea that right here in Canberra we would be able to hear what was going on in space. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case (you can't hear any audio from space in the exhibition area), but it was still very exciting to go and check out "one of only three tracking facilities in the world responsible for two-way radio contact with dozens of unmanned, robotic spacecraft exploring our Solar System and beyond", as stated in the flyer. As a secret nerd, they got me at the words "robotic spacecraft"!
With so much to explore, I wasn't sure it was going to be a suitable place to take our daughter, Miss Three, but with the promise of a muffin at the coffee shop there, it was all she needed to hop in the car and go.
For a lot of Canberrans, it seems that the complex is a long way to drive, but in reality it was only 20 minutes from Tuggeranong in the south, and according to their website it isn't that much further from the city or north side.
I recommend you check their website for information, maps and directions, as there are a few things to note about the area as it is so remote.
You will need to put in "Discovery Drive, Paddys River District, ACT" into your GPS in order to get there, however it is very well signed. The website states that mobile phone coverage is quite poor, so you may be out of touch from the world whilst you are there also.
Just a quick note about getting there from the south side through Gordon: don't attempt this trip after a lot of rain as the bridge at Point Hut Crossing floods very easily so it can be closed at those times.
It is quite a pleasant, scenic drive through the hills, sheep and cows until you get to the turnoff to the Space Complex. The interesting sign that greets you makes you pull over and do what they say - you don't want to interrupt something of national importance!
I imagine teenagers will needs some warning of this!
As you drive in, you can spot the huge white dishes in the distance and the excitement builds as you drive in and see them up close. For Miss Three, lover of all things space, she was amazed that these huge white dishes could "listen" to space. As an adult, I was equally entranced. There is a feeling that something special happens here.
The Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex was the size that I expected inside, it wasn't a large museum but it was jam-packed full of interesting information. With a young one in tow I wasn't sure how much of it I would be able to read, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that someone had already thought of this and there was a play area in the middle of one on the rooms.
As we wandered around, it felt unusual that we were the only ones there and also surprising that there was no one there to talk to who works there, except for the lady who worked in the coffee shop. So if you were an avid fan of everything space, there wasn't anyone there providing customer service or information if you wanted further explanations.
There were a few computers set up for adults/older teenagers to look at the solar system using a complicated-looking program (it was too complicated for me!). There was also a large screen with a theatre of chairs to watch documentaries on different planets and what is happening in our solar system. Miss Three sat still long enough for us to watch a segment on "Europa" - a moon of Jupiter that surprisingly has an ocean ten times larger than Earth's, however it is all under ice. They believe that it is possible that there is life under the ice. Fascinating! There were documentaries running all the time, so if you had the time, it would be an interesting way to spend an hour.
The exhibits also answer questions that you have always wanted to know:
How do they go to the toilet in space? With alot of difficulty!
This centre is very interesting, if a little bit tired looking on some of the displays, but if you had the time you could spend a couple of hours reading the exhibits and watching the doco's. It looks like a great place for interested teenagers and adults, but it isn't somewhere you could spend a long time. A couple of hours would be enough.
For the younger ones however, a little park is about to be built next to the coffee shop, which is a small but lovely sunny spot to grab a drink while you are there. When the park is built, it looks like you could sit inside with your coffee while the kids are outside playing and you could watch from within.
A park to be built adjacent to the small, but sunny coffee shop
The Deep Space Communication Complex is open every day 9:00am - 5:00pm (except Christmas Day) and is free to enter.
It is also just minutes down the road from Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, so it is ideal to combine the two in the same road trip.
Whilst we were the only ones there on our visit, as we left we saw several coaches of children on their way to Tidbinbilla or to the Complex, so you may see kids en masse at either place.
So in answer to my original question "Is this somewhere where I could take the kids or will they be bored?", the answer is that there is something for the young ones (toddler play area inside one of the rooms, park when it is built outside, coffee shop food) and for the older ones (exhibits to view, documentaries to watch, computers to check out) but you will have a limited time frame before the excitement of those things wears out - so start reading what you want to read earlier in the visit.
For those of you without children, it is a fascinating place to explore, and you could easily stay for some time immersing yourself in the information.
And then you get to enjoy the lovely country drive home.
The road out of the Complex, scenic and a sealed road all the way