Best Ride That's Outta This World 2008 | Challenger Space Center | People & Places | Phoenix

Friends often accuse us of having our heads in outer space. They don't know the half of it. Since childhood, we've dreamed of becoming astronauts. Alas, our feeble skills in science and math ruled out such a career path. So pending the day when the whole space-tourism thing becomes a more practical (and affordable) reality, the closest we're getting to trekking among the stars is by visiting the Challenger Space Center in Peoria.

This futuristic-looking facility offers a pair of simulated missions, where Neil Armstrong wanna-bes can participate in a pair of interactive two-hour experiences replicating (to a certain degree) a journey through the final frontier and life aboard the International Space Station. (Participants also get a turn at working as a flight crew in the million-dollar mission control facility inspired by the Johnson Space Center in Houston.) After sitting in the Earth Space Transit Module (which "transports" you into the cosmos), you can either help launch interstellar probes to encounter celestial bodies during "Rendezvous with a Comet," or take an excursion to the red planet in "Voyage to Mars."

Don't worry about motion sickness; there's no movement involved. It's more a cerebral adventure involving video screens that's somewhat akin to the old Mission to Mars ride at Disneyland — just without all those creepy-looking animatronic automatons.

We all know how excruciating modern urban life can be. We work like dogs, drive like animals, and shove fast food down our throats between dentist appointments and birthday parties. And in a city of cars, there's hardly an escape from the constant drone of engines flying by on bustling streets. But we stress "hardly" because we've found one of the best escape pods in the Valley.

The permanent installation by James Turrell at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art has provided a Zen space for the Valley for the past seven years. As it's tucked away behind the museum's patio, it's no surprise that visitors often cruise right by, missing their opportunity to put on the brakes and chill. This simple, elliptical room is made of slate-gray concrete with a block bench lining the curvature of the walls. Look up to its tall ceiling and you'll see our crystal blue heavens through its oval skylight. The walls block out the noise, the skylight makes the room glow, and the rounded enclosure feels like a warm embrace. Frantic thoughts and everyday anxieties disappear like magic and you are left to just be. Even in the dead of summer, we've spent chunks of time in the room, hardly noticing the heat. And if you happen to visit at night, a subtle glow achieved by expertly placed lighting will make you feel like you just popped a Vicodin.

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