Laura Waterman Wittstock

Laura Waterman Wittstock is president and CEO of Wittstock & Associates. The firm provides consultation in new projects, creative, development, assessment/evaluation, and governance. Read more about Laura Waterman Wittstock

The Minnesota Planetarium Deserves a Good Home

Posted by: Laura Waterman Wittstock Updated: April 26, 2011 - 8:49 AM

 We take looking up at the skies for granted. The stars and moon will always be there. Only the headline of a transit of Venus or the infamous blue moon calls our attention to the reality that the firmament is not fixed and we are a tiny population in a galaxy far away. Romantic maybe, but definitely not something we should take for granted for ourselves but especially not for our children. 

Most people agree that we should educate ourselves all of our lives. There is no room for limited thinking, especially not for the coming generations. It will comfort many Minnesotans to know that the MN Planetarium Society just passed an important 100,000 mark. That many school children have now had lessons about the cosmos, given by Planetarium teacher Sally Brummel. This teacher and a small crew of volunteers, consultant Joel Halvorson, and staff member Mike Linnemann have traveled extensively to bring a portable dome and astronomy program to schools.

We have a few small planetariums like the ones in Duluth, Hibbing, or New Ulm, but only one serves the entire state: the Minnesota Planetarium and Space Discovery Center. But, you can look at a list of the state's planetariums and observatories and not find the Minnesota Planetarium. That's because when the Minneapolis Central Library was torn down in 2003 to build the new Central Library, the Planetarium lost its home. Then known as the Minneapolis Planetarium, four million visitors went there over 50 years. Creaky, old equipment went into the dustbin as plans were made for a shining new edifice to go on top of the new Central Library. Now, eight years later, Minnesotans still have no state planetarium. Even with $22 million in bonding, there was not enough to build. The new planetarium, with the most modern equipment and software has had to wait for a greater will and the gifts needed to make it a reality.

For many reasons, support from the City of Minneapolis and then Hennepin County has lagged. Now, a new partnership with the Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota gives some hope that a new planetarium will be available to the people of the state. Collaborative Bell/Planetarium  camps for kids are planned for this summer and if Legacy funds are approved by the state legislature, more is possible, such as a "Cycle of Our Seasons" program that will link the states many small planetariums in new ways: via shared software, 3-D technology, and the inclusion of real objects from space. 

What's to make all this happen? Only the course of the legislative process will bring real space science to Minnesotans. It may seem like the proverbial "no brainer" to many, but politics on the hill in St. Paul are sharply divided in dozens of ways. The Minnesota Planetarium has brought STEM science to the children of the state like no other effort so far. What is STEM? It is science, technology, engineering and mathematics: the discipline areas vitally needed if the United States is going to be competitive on the world stage. The future is more of STEM, not less, and Minnesota needs to be in the competition, not sidelined by a failure to see the benefits of a future with what the Minnesota Planetarium will offer.

Minnesotans should show their support by picking up the phone, sending an email, or writing a letter to the members of the Legacy Division in the House or the Environment and Natural Resources Committee in the Senate. Do it today.

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