Space center planned here

Wednesday, October 13, 1976

Kansas Cosmosphere and Discovery Center — has a nice ring, doesn't it?

It hasn't been built yet, but if Hutchinson Planetarium officials have their way it will be soon. And, Director Max Ary says, "It will really put Hutchinson on the map."

"The facility wouldn't be just for the City of Hutchinson, but for the entire state of Kansas and all tourists who come this way. It would be an extremely significant cultural and education facility for the city," Ary said.

Plans, have been made by the Kansas Science and Arts Foundation to enlarge the present Planetarium on the Hutchinson Community College campus. A tentative name of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Discovery Center has been chosen for the facility.

The college's board of trustees Tuesday night approved an extension of the Planetarium area on the campus. No target date has been set for construction of the $1.5 million facility, but Ary hopes it won't be long before the plans can be turned into reality.

"There are federal funds available for this type of facility and we are going after them. We are also going to rely on donations for part of the cost of construction and equipping the center. Our fund drive has already started, so we are on our way," Ary said.

The present Planetarium contains 3200 square feet. The planned addition will add another 20,000 square feet. The addition would be south of the Planetarium and extend into the parking lot near the college's science building.

Theme of the new center would be based on man's eternal quest to discover who he is. Exhibits would be coordinated to fit in with the central theme and provide individuals with a personal scientific experience.

"We didn't want to call the center a museum, because that word itself has connotations of stuffy places where you can only look, not touch. Our exhibits are going to be of the 'hands on' type. Visitors can not only look, but touch and handle many artifacts from our space program. We will have many items that have been to the moon and back," Ary said.

"This will be one of the most significant major science centers in the midwest United States. There is only one other place that provides this sort of a 'hands on' experience, and that is at the Smithsonian Institution."

The new center will be divided into three areas: Earth, atmosphere and space.

The earth area will contain exhibits of energy and natural resources. One of the most interesting things in this area will be' a seismograph, with the possiblity that the seismograph could be linked with the Johnson Manned Space Center, Houston, Texas.

"If we can arrange that link, visitors will be able to see live signals coming from the moon," Ary said.

A complete weather station would be located in the atmosphere area of the center. Visitors would be able to make their own weather forecasts by following certain guidelines. The atmospheres of other planets will also be reproduced in this area, for comparison with that on earth.

The cockpit areas of five planes — from biplanes to Boeing 747 — will also be constructed in this area. Visitors will be able to sit in the seats and "play pilot." There also will be a jet simulator in which persons will be able to feel the sensation of jetting through space.

The space area will be set aside for the study of all areas outside the atmosphere. In addition to viewing celestial objects, visitors will be able to see a variety of NASA artifacts, ranging from a spaceship to heat shields, gloves, helmets, rocket engines and parachutes.

"All of these items have actually been in space, many of them on the moon," Ary said. "This collection of NASA artifacts will be one of the most significant outside of the Smithsonian," Ary said.

Plans for the present Planetarium call for the removal of all instruments and converting it to what Ary terms an Atmospherium. It will be equipped with a 35 millimeter fisheye lens projector so, that movies can be shown on the dome and all around the perimeter, similar to old Cinerama movies. In a movie of a trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, for example, the viewer will feel as though he is actually in the boat, and could almost touch the canyon walls and see them towering above him.

"Officials at the Smithsonian are excited about our plans and think it is incredible that we could plan such a place in the middle of the United States. When I was there recently they told me if we needed anything for display and if they were not currently displaying it, we could have it," Ary said.

"We feel we could attract 300,000 to 400,000 visitors per year to a center like this. We are excited about it and feel that the people of Hutchinson, and all over the state, will be excited at the prospect too," Ary said.