‘Sphere’ featured as Space Foundation opens visitors center
When the Space Foundation moved into vastly larger quarters a year and a half ago, CEO Eliot Pulham vowed to make the new home a “showcase” of space treasures.
The words became real this week with the official opening of the non-profit entity's Visitors Center, featuring the Northrop Grumman Science Center and El Pomar Space Gallery.
The facility at 4425 Arrowswest Dr., off Garden of the Gods Road, is now open to the public Tuesdays and Thursdays and the first Saturday of the month; times are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 adults, with discounts for others.
The Science Center has a colorful technological centerpiece. The six-foot-diameter Science on a Sphere hanging in the middle of the room is capable of showing realistic, hologram-like, in-motion scenes of activity on Earth, as if the viewer were watching from outer space.
Depending on the datasets punched into the Sphere's computers and video projectors, its programmed displays can include the planet's seasons, storm paths (for instance, the movement of Hurricane Katrina can be recreated), the positions of the satellites and space station, air traffic patterns, ocean currents and even (with the oceans “removed”) the tectonic plates of the entire globe.
Developed about seven years ago by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (a federal agency), the Sphere can also be used to represent the Moon or other planets. One short segment illustrates how the Moon took its shape over millions of years, being hit by meteors while it was still cooling.
The adjoining Space Gallery “houses a sampling of the Space Foundation's extensive artifacts collection,” a press release states. “The initial phase [titled “Launch to the Moon”] primarily features artifacts related to the U.S./Soviet race to the Moon in the '60s and early '70s.”
Prominent in the exhibit are a quarter-scale replica of the Lunar Module that was used by the Apollo astronauts and the Soviet Union's Luna 16 Robotic Probe, which was the first unmanned spacecraft to land on the Moon
During a press conference last week, Pulham said the current exhibits are just the beginning for the Visitor Center. “They're about 10 percent of what we plan to have,” he said.
Discussing the Science on a Sphere, Pulham revealed that he'd longed to obtain one for years, but didn't have room at the previous Space Foundation location on South 14th Street - not to mention the $375,000 such units cost. The Sphere at Arrowswest, said to be one of 85 in the world, was donated by Northrop Grumman, a national aerospace-focused company which has a long-time operation on the Westside (off Centennial Boulevard, near Albert-son's). “We're very excited about it,” Pulham said.
Lon Rains, Northrop Grumman's director of strategic communications, said the the gift is in keeping with Northrop's mission “to get kids interested in space… the aerospace industry needs scientifically educated workers.”
In that regard, the Visitors Center is largely intended to be an educational destination, tailored to match up with the curricula for students from kindergarten through 12th grade and even to be useful to college graduate students.
To confirm that the Sphere/Visitors Center programs would appeal to students, the facility had several “soft openings” in the weeks before the official opening. According to Iain Probert, vice president of the Space Foundation's education arm, there were four visits in all, involving 350 secondary students of varying ages and types of schools (rural, urban, suburban, charter and homeschool). Asked about the responses, he said that in every case, “when we'd bring up Earth [on the Sphere], we'd hear 'Ooo-ah, ooo-ah.' ”
Started in 1983, the Space Foundation had operated in the 12,000-square-foot building at 310 S. 14th St. for nine years before relocating to the 45,715-square-foot Arrowswest space in mid-2011.
The move was led by the El Pomar Foundation, which had become concerned about the Space Foundation being lured by another city and orchestrated the nearly $1 million Arrowswest building purchase. In return for this support, the Space Foundation agreed to keep its headquarters in Colorado Springs for at least 15 more years.
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