The Cradle of Aviation Museum launched a new planetarium this month that aims to inspire the next generation in the wonders of science and math.
The JetBlue Sky Theater Planetarium’s state-of-the-art digital projection system was unveiled Oct. 4 in the East Garden City museum’s five-story dome theater, which is best known for showing educational IMAX movies.
“It is one of the best tools for teaching where we are in the grand order of things,” said Scott Carpenter, the second man to orbit Earth 50 years ago as a part of the Mercury 7 crew.
The out-of-this-world special guest joined local lawmakers, school children, museum and JetBlue executives for the debut.
“Science is really interesting especially in space because you are in the middle of nowhere,” Shayna DeRosa, an excited 10-year-old from Wantagh Elementary School, said after the presentation.
With a countdown from three, the demo of the planetarium’s capabilities treated the audience to a two-minute space tour, starting on Earth, landing on the moon and exploring the surface of Mars as if it was the Mars rover.
And the adventure doesn’t stop there. The museum plans to live stream NASA’s next greatest venture in its planetarium.
“The next big mission is to land on a meteor and we will live stream that,” Andrew Parton, executive director of the Cradle of Aviation Museum said.
Robin Hayes, chief commercial officer of JetBlue, noted the 3D virtual experience of total immersion into the stars, planets and galaxies comes “without the goofy-looking glasses.”
The Uniview planetarium program software used creates real time and recorded programs of the known universe utilizing databases from NASA and the European Space Agency’s satellites data. Programs can be customized for students to see and control using an Xbox controller.
“We can now tap into satellite and look into Earth and observe the weather patterns for Earth science,” said Hayes. “It is one of the best tools for teaching where we are.”
The Cradle of Aviation, which works close with several Long Island schools to bolster interest in science and math as part of the STEM program—short for Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—hopes to encourage students to choose careers in math and science.
Several national reports have cited a decline in testing scores for the STEM fields. According to the National Math and Science Initiative, the US ranked 25th in math and 17th in science.
“I would like children to focus on math and science or the Aerospace industry and to know that there are careers here in Long Island so they don’t have to leave,” said Hayes. “As an airline, we can’t function without people in our fields, we are in the most important area in the country for development of aviation.”
Carpenter also helped inspire students.
“Curiosity is the greatest gift and fear does a lot of good things,” he said. “If you are curious to face those unknowns with pleasure, you are going to learn.”