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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

SpaceQuest Planetarium : End Of An Era!

Today, I confirmed some really bad rumors and the truth of it has hit me hard.

SpaceQuest Planetarium at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is being torn down to make way for something that is not a planetarium. This is an ongoing trend nationwide that disturbs me deeply.

Let's start out with a bit of background about my involvement with SpaceQuest Planetarium.

In early 1997, I was a grad student at Indiana State University where, as part of my duties, I served as the Student Director of the Hook Memorial Observatory. It was a position I excelled at and I loved being an astronomer.

By chance and circumstance, I applied for an internship at SpaceQuest Planetarium and soon found myself offered a job as the Planetarium Educator instead, owing to the fact that the previous educator had died a few weeks earlier.

Walking into The Children's Museum of Indianapolis on March 3, 1997, I was overwhelmed and thrilled to have found what would almost immediately become my dream job. To this day, I have never had a better job, nor will I ever... It was that good.

For the next nearly 4 years, I did the coolest, funnest stuff anyone could ever do... and get paid for it as well. Every morning, I would get up and I couldn't wait to get to work. At the end of the day, I regretted having to leave.

During that time, I wrote and produced 8 planetarium shows, including working with Jim Davis of Paws Inc., Lorenzo Music and John Huge (voices of Garfield the Cat and his owner Jon respectfully), Alan Bean (Apollo 12 moonwalker), and Harrison Schmidt (Apollo 17 moonwalker).  I also worked with Bob Ballard and the JASON Project, NASA (I got to fly on the Vomit Comet twice), and countless others doing some very unique things.

For example, I worked with Jeff Ward of Eli Lily and tracked his dogsled team as they explored the North Magnetic Pole. They would phone back to the dome every Saturday/Sunday during showtimes so kids could talk to them about their adventures. We also tracked their progress on a webpage devoted to their mission. No museum had ever done anything like before.

I designed an award-winning International Space Station web-based game for the museum's website which was, up until a few weeks ago, the most visited website for the museum's homepage.

I built a 1/3rd scale replica of a Stonehenge Trilathon, complete with a Heelstone, which I used to teach simple Physics, history, religion and even how to better complete tasks through teamwork.

Also, I produced in-house video programs called "Dr. What?" for Riley Children's Hospital as part of the museum's outreach program. As part of that work, I got to ride on the Goodyear Blimp "Spirit of Akron." What a hoot!

I webcasted the 1999 Mercury Transit live and was the first museum to ever do anything like that.

The highlight of my career was the acquisition of the Liberty Bell 7 Spacecraft exhibit in 2000. We were the first museum to display this unique artifact of the early days of NASA. I created numerous exhibits and activities related to the science of rockets, as well as a stunning show (pardon my bragging) entitled: SpaceQuest; The Early History of NASA.

I even got to handle and display Moonrocks, as well as introducing kids to the geology of the Moon. In fact, my fondest memories were working with the Museum Apprentice Program (MAPs) kids as a Mentor. Their enthusiasm inspired me and I still keep in contact with many of them.

For nearly 4 years, I enjoyed the support of President Peter Sterling and Director of Education David Cassady until both decided to retire in 2000. It was then that the Board of Directors committed a most grievous act of sheer and complete stupidity when they hired Jeff Patchen to replace Peter Sterling.

Jeff Patchen had absolutely no background in education and he proved his ignorance right away when he promoted a minion of Satan named Karol Bartlett to succeed David Cassady.

Now, fools were in charge and over the next 2 years, the entire education department was forced to abandon the greatest museum on Earth in order to escape the stupidity of Patches the Clown and Karol the Ignoramus! I left soon after she was promoted in order to avoid her evilness.

Here's a fine example of their ignorance at work.

Somehow, they thought that installing a giant glass dildo in the middle of the museum was a good idea.

My only regret was that I was forced to leave, but Time has proven my decision was the correct one, even though not a week passes by that I don't think about that museum and the greatest job I will ever have.

15 years later and now the planetarium is being torn down to make room for something that will not include a planetarium. It is a sad day indeed when science education suffers at the hands of morons who see no value in inspiring kids to view science, space exploration and such as a thing to aspire to, not one to avoid at all cost.

1 comment:

  1. I can't help responding to your post about SpaceQuest. I, too was VERY disappointed to learn that TCM had decommissioned the SpaceQuest Planetarium. I was basically the one who worked with the architect to design it, I hired the first staff, and I oversaw the development of the first shows. I was extraordinarily proud of what we were able to accomplish there. The shows (several a day) were always at capacity and it was hard to find a time when we could actually get into the dome to do our work, and the museum wasn't keen on letting the planetarium staff work after hours to make repairs or install new programs. They didn't get it.

    I am glad that, at least for a while after I left, that the planetarium fell into the hands of someone (you) who loved the place as much as I did, and who was passionate about doing cool, innovative things. That is what we intended SpaceQuest to be about.

    I suspect that there were several things that caused TCM to decommission the place..
    1. the on going cost of playing keep-up with changing planetarium technology
    2. the lack of high quality, young child appropriate content that was out there to buy/adapt
    3. an unwillingness to invest the $ necessary to produce original, high quality mult-media shows in house
    4. an institutional focus on collections and the interpretation of objects

    At least we can take consolation that our work touched the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of children and adults during our time at TCM. Hopefully, we inspired wonder, curiosity, and/or awe, and just maybe made a difference in the lives of some.

    S. Parker
    First SpaceQuest Planetarium, Director