A journey from the history of star-gazing to a virtual trip through the vastness of the universe.
That is what the State Museum is promising visitors when it opens the doors to its new “Windows to New Worlds” project Saturday, August 16. The 75,000 square foot one-of-a-kind facility features a planetarium, an observatory, and the only 4D theatre in the state.
Museum spokesman Tut Underwood said he hopes adults and children who visit the new facility will be awestruck.
“I was sitting the other day, when they unveiled this to the staff, in the planetarium watching this awesome show, hearing these sounds and my vision was filled with the wonders of the universe,” he said. “I was thinking this is a facility that people would think would only be available in Washington, D.C., or New York, or L-A, or London, or Paris, and it’s right here in Columbia, South Carolina.”
The special grand opening, scheduled from 9am-7pm Saturday, will feature the opening of a new art exhibition, “Building a Universe.”
At Wednesday’s press preview, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said the new project is not just a first class facility, but is a vision that cannot be measured just in downtown visitors or economic impact.
“This museum represents a state of mind that says that we can accomplish more, we can be more than we ever imagined,” he said. “We can dream big. We can act boldly and challenge our children and all future generations to reach for the stars.”
A permanent NASA galley will be located in the planetarium lobby that will include artifacts from South Carolina astronauts.
Dr. David DeVorkin, who is Senior Curator of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, expressed excitement about the Robert Arial Collection of Historical Astronomy. The Arial Collection features instruments for studying the stars that date back to 1730. DeVorkin said the lenses on the historical telescopes were handmade and hand-polished and show how art and science intersect.
“Were they figured according to some scientific of mathematical equation?” he asked. “No. They were figured according to artistic temperament. Alvin Clark especially; he was a miniature portrait painter and he got into making telescopes, and he carried his aesthetics into that. Other telescope makers in America were the same.”
The collection includes the oldest surviving American-made observatory instrument made by Henry Fitz for Erskine College in Due West, South Carolina back in 1849.
The Boeing Observatory will be an integral part of the museum’s new distance learning initiatives. State Education Superintendent Mick Zais said he is proud to have the museum working with school districts to peak students’ interest in Astronomy.
“The state Department of Education is developing an online course for high school students in Astronomy,” he said. “So if a student in Bamberg, or another rural county like Calhoun or Colleton, is fascinated as I am by the wonderful world of astronomy, they can take a course and get credit for it.”
Amy Baldwin of Dorchester County School District 2, was one of five school teachers that visited the museum the last week in July to learn how to remotely operate the observatory’s telescope. She said she is excited about the possibilities for new tool for learning.
“The students are not going to have any idea what they are going to see through that telescope. They may have looked it up in a textbook or on the internet, but when they glance through that eyepiece or they remotely drive that telescope, their eyes are just going to light up and the education is going to explode.”