Human beings have an innate need to understand themselves and their world, to explore the yet unknown and the long forgotten. The Shiras Planetarium brings opportunities for such exploration directly to the Upper Peninsula. Across the world, over 93 million explorers visit a planetarium each year. A planetarium offers unique learning opportunities about the past, present, and future. We can learn how our ancestors sailed the seas using the stars as their guide. Or, we can learn about today’s issues in climate and seasonal changes by witnessing simulated movements of the planets and stars. We learn stories from many cultures as the constellations and their meanings are highlighted. A planetarium brings a sense of excitement and wonder about the possibilities beyond our own small planet, the same sense of wonder that motivated all great explorers of the past and will challenge all great explorers of the future.
Shiras Planetarium is the only fully operational planetarium within a two hundred mile radius of Marquette, serving a large region of the Upper Great Lakes. Since our doors first opened in 1965, thousands of students ranging from lower elementary to university, community members, and visitors to our area come to the Shiras Planetarium to be entertained and educated. Shiras Planetarium offers daily programs to schools from across the U.P. and weekly programs for the public and special groups. We serve a valuable and unique need of the people of the Upper Peninsula.
The Shiras Planetarium opened in the spring of 1965 after money through the National Defense Act was acquired to purchase a star projector. Once the money for the star projector was secured, all that was necessary was a building to house it. The Shiras Institute graciously funded this project as an addition to the newly built Marquette Senior High School.
Originally, the planetarium contained a Spitz A3P Optical-Mechanical class star projector. Over the years, more equipment was added and the planetarium served the community in its basic function to educate people in the sciences. However, with over 25 years of use, the Spitz machine was falling into disrepair. In the late 1980’s, it was decided that a new star machine would be preferable to spending tens of thousands of dollars to refurbish the A3P. So, in the years between 1991 and 1992, a new Minolta MS-8 star projector, a computer automation system, and many more projectors were installed.
For the first time, the Shiras Planetarium took advantage of computer technology to control over 20 different projectors of various design and was able to offer shows which paralleled larger planetariums and enthralled audiences in an educational setting. For a period 10-15 years we were very well equipped with the technology we needed, but as often happens with advances in technology, media, and educational research, by the early 2000s we found ourselves behind current trends, and it was time to pursue an upgrade to our system again.
In 2002 Marquette Area Public Schools invested over $200,000 in upgrades to the Shiras Planetarium including the purchase of their very first full-dome projection system. The Konica Minolta MediaGlobe was added allowing us to project fulldome content in addition to showing the night sky with our MS-8 optical mechanical star projector. Also at that time we installed a new dome and did upgrades to our entrance. The Shiras Planetarium was once again a leader in the region providing rich content to the masses.
So what is the problem?
With the ability to show full dome footage we were able to delve into content well beyond astronomy. There are many full-dome productions that reach well beyond that scope. Some directors have even created their own content using local photography and subject matter. It was a thriving time for the Shiras Planetarium. On December 2, 2015 that all came to a screeching halt as our Mediaglobe stopped working. Soon after it was determined that this equipment was unable to be fixed. The director at that time had no choice but to go back to the days prior to the fulldome projection and continue shows showing only the night sky.
In May of 2017 the Shiras Planetarium was forced to close as Marquette Senior High School broke ground on an addition which was connected to the Shiras Planetarium. This project included adding a ADA compliant entrance for the planetarium.
The construction project at MSHS was completed in late 2017 and the new entrance is currently being utilized. After a period of cleaning after the construction we reopened with our first public show on February 7, 2018 to a sold out audience. Visitors enjoy the beauty of the night sky once again in the Shiras Planetarium. However, we are still faced with the obstacle of not having any working, modern projection equipment. Most planetaria today survive because they are able to offer a wide variety of modern content using their full-dome projection system. The Shiras Planetarium currently has no more technology than it did in 1992, and in fact are providing the same content they did in the 1960s without this equipment. The situation is dire. If we want to preserve this space we MUST upgrade tech and bring in income from additional programming.
To further complicate this issue, the Konica Minolta MS-8 star projector is obsolete and parts are getting scarce. The lighting is aging and needs replacement. The seating, which is original, is in need of replacement. All of these obstacles leave us facing a fundraising goal of over a million dollars within the next ten years. It is just out of reach for a public school in 2018 to pursue without community and corporate support.
Years of research and networking have left us with a very clear vision for which technology we need to replace and the direction we want to head as a facility. However, as a planetarium in a public school, funding is very problematic. Most small planetariums on the planet depend on donors to survive and the Shiras Planetarium is no exception.
We are first focusing on raising the money needed to return digital project to this space. This would include purchase of two high quality cove mounted digital projectors (cove mounted and edge-blended), new computers and control systems, and purchase of updated software and content for use with classes and audiences.
Our goal of this campaign is to bring back digital projection. The level of quality we get will depend on funds raised. High quality solutions range in price from $250,000-$600,00. We have raised about $105,000, most of which has come from the Shiras Institute. They have been a huge support of this planetarium since its inception!
We need you!
The Shiras Planetarium has a rich, fifty-three year history of serving the communities and the schools of the Upper Peninsula. Our facility is visited by nearly 5,000 people each year, including school children, community members, and tourists. Providing over 150 shows yearly, our presence is felt by all school districts in Marquette county and beyond. We want to continue to serve the schools of the Upper Peninsula for many more years.
It is our mission to increase our offerings to the community and upgrade our space so it can be a leader in education, entertainment, and wellness for our community. We will need strong community support to make that happen. We need your donations today!