The Journal Gazette
Friday, September 13, 2019 1:00 am

Planetarium would be asset for generations

John McGauley

Imagine having the universe in the palm of your hand – or at least having it in your backyard.

If you live in northeast Indiana, Science Central is trying to accomplish exactly that: Bringing the universe to North Clinton Street in downtown Fort Wayne.

Science Central, nearing its 25th anniversary, is putting the pieces in place for perhaps the biggest upgrade yet to its ability to educate and inspire young people – an 80-seat planetarium. It would be the only planetarium of its kind in the region.

There are currently more than a dozen planetariums in Indiana, but none in the northeast corner of the state. The last planetarium in Fort Wayne, the E.C. Schouweiler Planetarium at the University of Saint Francis, closed in 2016. With interest in astronomy, space and science in general as high as they have ever been, especially among school-aged youth, that leaves our region at a disadvantage.

The planetarium Science Central is developing will be state of the art, unlike anything the region has enjoyed before. Bringing together pieces of the original St. Francis planetarium with a modern, full-dome digital system, the planetarium will be able to take visitors on an immersive tour of our solar system and even farther into the reaches of deep space.

Interest in space is at its zenith. The 2017 total solar eclipse that swept across North America, the nonstop flow of discoveries coming from robotic exploration of the planets and the recent 50th anniversary of the first Apollo lunar landing reignited imaginations and passions about what lies out there. While they no longer merit network TV attention, every launch and landing of a commercial rocket brings tens of thousands of viewers to streaming online broadcasts. Last year's debut mission of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket brought more people to Florida to watch in person than have shown up for a launch since the last flight of the space shuttle.

For crying out loud, you can even buy NASA-branded clothing at places such as Target and Forever 21. If that does not say that space has gone mainstream, nothing does.

When space draws the attention of children and adults, they look for places to go where they can observe, learn and celebrate. They seek out places like a state-of-the-art planetarium, a piece of the puzzle that fits perfectly into Science Central's vision of being the region's premier gateway for informal science education.

Opportunities to excite young minds about the world around us, and the worlds beyond us, will keep coming fast and furious. Next year marks the launch of the Mars 2020 rover, the latest wheeled explorer to roam the Red Planet – and the first mission ever to fly a drone across the plains of another world. In 2024, another epic total solar eclipse will sweep across our area, plunging parts of Indiana into darkness for more than four minutes. In the near future, launch of the Webb Space Telescope will expand our view of the universe wider than humanity has ever known.

It boils down to a question of supply and demand. Every new, historic moment in science and exploration will light more minds afire, and send those curious on a quest for knowledge. Don't we want to meet that demand right here in Fort Wayne?

Projects such as the Science Central planetarium are the very definition of “transformative.” Is there any greater value than taking a flicker of a child's interest in the sciences and fanning it into a lifelong pursuit of knowledge and innovation? That is the potential behind what Science Central proposes to build.

A planetarium also makes more of the investment the community has already made in Science Central. It builds upon hundreds of other exhibits, programs and activities, including its Science On a Sphere gallery, also unique to our area. The capital campaign behind it is the most ambitious since Science Central opened in 1995.

The final step in that campaign is the request for Legacy Funds currently being considered by Fort Wayne City Council. With about 75% of the project's cost having already been raised from private sources, Science Central is well on its way to making the planetarium a reality.

The Science Central planetarium is more than just a show or something new to do in downtown Fort Wayne. It is an investment in minds and futures.

It is putting the universe in the palm of your hand.

John McGauley is a board member at Science Central.

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