State Museum’s New Role in Aerospace Education

The South Carolina State Museum recently opened a 75,000 square foot state-of-the-art renovation and expansion project known as, Windows to New Worlds.”  The new features of this project include an observatory with distance learning capabilities, one of the largest planetariums in the Southeast, an expansive collection of antique telescopes and a multisensory 4D theater. The expansion provides many new opportunities to educate and inspire and has positioned the State Museum on the cutting edge of education, particularly in the critical areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). From science fundamentals to deep space exploration, museum guests now are treated to a new range of topics that connect them to aerospace initiatives.

Boeing Observatory

A trip to the Boeing Observatory is an opportunity to discover how aerospace contributes to the missions that produce amazing images of celestial objects. Standing on the observatory terrace, educators can point out the International Space Station to evening guests. A trip to BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Planetarium lobby highlights accomplishments by famous South Carolina astronauts. From Charles Duke’s Apollo years through Charles Bolden’s Space Shuttle years to his current role as NASA Administrator. Planetarium programs explore a wide range of subjects, including night sky tours, the history of the telescope, and the engineering needs required to send Earth’s next astronauts to the Moon and back. These new spaces, as well as other new education programs and exhibits provide excellent opportunities to illustrate the history of flight, especially the technologies that make space exploration possible.

The new 2,500 square foot observatory, equipped with a computer controlled 1926 Alvan Clark 12 3/8-inch refracting telescope and onsite classroom, is playing a central role in the State Museum’s new distance learning initiatives.  For the first time in the nation, remote access of a vintage telescope is being provided free-of-charge to classrooms across a state. Currently the State Museum is working with a Boeing-sponsored pilot group made up 8th grade classes from five schools across the state, including Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Rock Hill and Spartanburg.  The State Museum is continuing to train and integrate schools into this program, and eventually, all South Carolina schools will have access to observatory’s distance learning programming.

In addition to distance learning programming, the observatory is used for onsite viewing of the Sun and night sky objects, including the Moon, planets, stars, nebulae and galaxies.  The telescope is controlled by a computer system, enabling it to be pointed quickly at specific locations in the sky, allowing museum guests to see firsthand dynamic details of the day and night skies.  Every Tuesday evening the observatory (contingent on weather) is open to the public for evening observing during Second Shift Tuesdays from 5 – 8 p.m.  The observatory also features an outdoor terrace with views of the Congaree Vista and the Gervais Street Bridge. Click here to learn more.

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Planetarium and NASA Gallery

One of the largest planetariums in the Southeast, this massive 55-foot dome planetarium and theater takes guests on journeys to the deepest reaches of space through educational and entertaining astronomy shows, non-space films dealing with art, history and natural history and laser light shows. The planetarium runs on a Digistar 5 system, the most current, state-of-the-art software and presentation system, and features high-resolution detail and 3D terrain showing spectacular views of the earth, planets and moons in the solar system.  It has the capability to show real-time stars and constellations from anywhere on earth and can recreate the sky and star positions from more than one million years in the past to more than one million years in the future. The planetarium offers real-time experiences such as live satellite-based programs and interactions from NASA. Images taken of space from the observatory’s telescope can be displayed on the planetarium’s projection screen.  A permanent NASA gallery is located in the planetarium lobby with interactive capabilities and artifacts from South Carolina astronauts. The planetarium’s amazing projection system and the interactive NASA gallery are literally bringing science and outer space to life for guests.  Click here to learn more.

The Robert B. Ariail Collection of Historical Astronomy

The new 6,000 square foot telescope gallery features an expansive collection of antique astronomical instruments dating back to 1730. According to the American Astronomical Society, this incredibly rare collection features one of the best public collections of early American telescopes in world. The collection includes the oldest surviving American-made observatory instrument, a 5.6-inch Henry Fitz made in 1849 for Erskine College in Due West, S.C. To the right of the Erskine College dome replica, guests will see Fire in the Sky, by South Carolina artist Clay Rice. This large scale silhouette illustrates the 1833 Leonid meteor shower, one of the largest and most intense meteor showers in human history and one of the pivotal moments that began the serious study of meteors. Click here to learn more.