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Planetarium returning with show on Mars

April 18, 1999

PlanetariumBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




A mission to Mars marks the reopening of the renovated Washington County Planetarium on Tuesday.

Its first public show this year will be "Destination Mars," a combination of slides and video describing a planned NASA journey to the red planet in 2018.

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The planetarium at the Washington County Board of Education's Central Office on Commonwealth Avenue closed for repairs in August. The carpet and chairs were torn out. The central projector was sent back to its manufacturer, Spitz Inc.

The Chadds Ford, Pa., company gutted the old machine and built a new one into its shell, said Rodney Martin, a resource teacher who runs the planetarium.

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The wires, motors and lamps inside the projector are state-of-the-art, Martin said. The green-tinged tan of the exterior is gone, replaced by a metallic gray.

The planetarium itself has 63 new padded chairs with angled backs, fresh coats of green paint on the walls and new carpet. It also has projection booths in two corners where workers moved the walls out 18 inches and installed picture windows.

It was also rewired and all the electronics were transferred to low voltage. The entire renovation cost about $220,000, but $182,000 of that total paid for the rebuilt projector, Martin said.

Since September, he has been visiting schools and using a "Star Lab," a kind of portable projector used in a tent. "It's been a long nine months," he said. "I was ready to get back."

Martin said he hopes "Destination Mars" inspires today's students, who never knew the heady glee of America's journeys to the moon.

"For them, space exploration is not the pioneering, exciting thing it was for us when it was all new," he said. "Hopefully, this will get some of the enthusiasm back."

The show was produced by Spitz and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It follows the crew of the ship Antares from launch to landing, describing the problems associated with the mission and their solutions.

For example, the film describes how the astronauts exercise on a cycle and treadmill to prevent the deterioration of muscles in an environment without gravity during a trip 200 days long each way.

It shows how they use a machine sent ahead to convert gases on the planet's surface to oxygen. They grow vegetables on the planet using a greenhouse and go on roving expeditions to study Mars' rocks.

The 45-minute presentation begins at 7 p.m. and will continue each Tuesday until June 8. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children. Martin said he likes to begin the program with a viewing of the stars.

The renovation is not complete. "The bells and whistles aren't hooked up yet," said Martin. He is still putting the final touches on several new special effects and a multi-projector system. A grand opening is planned for the fall.

The planetarium has about 15,000 visitors a year, according to Martin. It was built in 1969 and the fall show, "We Came in Peace," will mark its 30th anniversary celebration.

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