International Planetarium Society
Monday June 28, 2010
The 20th International Planetarium Society Conference (IPS2010)
A planetarium may be considered a “House of Star Science”, where a person may seek knowledge of the universe and contemplate the place of humankind in its vastness. One distinctive features of this medium is the contemporaneous involvement of the human sensors of sight, sound and mind. Therefore, there is an education mission for each planetarium to accomplish and, subsequently, a need for updating the state of knowledge. This requires not only constant surveys of recent discoveries in the field, but also regular communication with institutions that provide similar services worldwide. For this reason I applaud the initiative of the International Planetarium Society and its 2010 Conference at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina – the resurrection of an ancient store of universal knowledge.
As a geologist and veteran of NASA’s program of lunar exploration, my intention is to convey to participants of this conference some examples of the reasons for the unequal success of Apollo. The most critical reason being that it was a program with a grand objective that everyone could understand, and a very specific time table: “To send a man to the Moon and bring him safely to the Earth within a decade.” This motivated all participants in the project to absolute limits. This motivation, in large part, assured the superb accomplishments of the momentous endeavor.
In the post-Apollo era, IMAX presents an example of following up an idea and assuring its utility in scientific education of the masses in an entertaining way. It is a story of an innovation that was supported by a promoter, and implemented by a visionary public educator. That implementation occurred during my tenure as research director of the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. The influence of such an endeavor on science for the lay person was enormous, and deserves study and emulation.
Today, we are very lucky to witness a steady stream of astronomical discoveries by the Hubble Space Telescope. This great instrument has expanded our knowledge of the universe many fold. Its results will surely influence the topics to be dealt with by planetaria worldwide. One of our future objectives should be to establish a mechanism to bring to the general public the results of its discoveries in near real-time. In so doing we would expand the knowledge and heighten the interest of younger generations. This would assure that they would continue the quest for knowledge of our vast and fascinating universe.