Since the Fleischmann Planetarium and Science Center opened on the University of Nevada, Reno's campus in 1963, it has become a national landmark, a continuing source of knowledge about astronomy and a place of nostalgia for people in the community.
The Planetarium celebrates its 50-year anniversary on Nov. 15. It has served about half-a-million children through field trips and has had an estimated 2 million public visitors, Dan Ruby associate director of the Planetarium said.
"The 50-year anniversary is great for us because it means that what we have done has been successful," Ruby said.
Throughout the years, the Planetarium has been a place where people experience and learn about astronomy and space science.
"The Fleischmann Planetarium has been and continues to be an important resource at the University of Nevada, Reno," University President Marc Johnson said. "It reflects the goals of the University through its research, education and outreach to the community."
The Planetarium has continually provided a resource that connects the University to the local community.
"It's remarkably very similar to the way it was in 1963," Ruby said. "We have daily star shows for the public, we offer a variety of field trips for students in grades K-12, people can wander around the exhibits in the building and we have friendly staff to answer questions."
"Although we offer immersive shows, it's much more than a movie theater," Ruby said. "We want it to be a center where people can learn about science, technology, engineering and math through the lens of space."
The Planetarium has faced challenges, including threats of closure for budget cuts and construction of the new West Stadium Parking Garage. With the support of the community, it has persevered.
"There have been some rocky moments in the past five decades," Ruby said. "There have been ups and downs funding-wise, but the number of students we serve on field trips and the number of public visitors has remained solid, and we're looking at healthy growth in the future."
In 1974, the interest in the space program was waning and the initial funding for the Planetarium ran out, forcing the Planetarium to close for a few months. The community helped raise money to keep the center open.
"Nearly everyone who grew up in Reno has been to the Planetarium on a field trip, they remember their experience fondly, and they return later in life with their families," Ruby said.
The Planetarium has served 30,000 to 60,000 visitors, including more than 10,000 K-12 students, annually over the past 50 years. It is an iconic Reno and national landmark that draws the public to the University's campus.
"It's a unique building," Ruby said. "People come to campus for athletics and special events, but the Planetarium draws tourists as well as residents that might not come otherwise."
The space center acts as a link between local schools and the University by providing an informal education setting for primary and secondary students. They learn and become excited about astronomy and space science, and exposes them to the campus and higher education STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.
"Sometimes kids don't know these options exist until you bring them up here," Ruby said. "Our job is to work hard to inspire kids to become the future's scientists and engineers, and we work with other University programs to do that."
They have also worked hard to modernize the Planetarium while remaining true to its space-aged look and feel. In recent years, the building has been restored, the theater upgraded, and it is now in the middle phase of updating the exhibit hall.
The Planetarium was originally called the Fleischmann Atmospherium-Planetarium and was constructed as a publicly accessible research facility for the Desert Research Institute.
"It never really matured as a center for atmospherics, but the astronomy aspect really took off," Ruby said.
Ruby would like to continue recent planetarium involvement in active research to keep the public and K-12 students connected to exciting advances at the frontiers of science and technology.
"Beyond just being a place where students and the public can learn about planets, we want to return to those roots and be a place where we are actively engaged in research," he said.
When it opened in 1963, the price of admission for adults was $1. In honor of the anniversary, starting on Nov. 8 and continuing through Jan. 12, the Planetarium will institute "time machine" pricing with the same admission fee on weekends as it charged 50 years ago. There will be weekly lectures from people who have been influential on, or influenced by, the Planetarium. The center is also recreating a traditional star show much like the show Under Nevada Skies, which played during the Planetarium's first few years.
In addition to highlighting the past of the Planetarium, the anniversary celebration will feature a new show called Exploding Universe.
"This will be the most impressive show that the Planetarium has ever offered," Ruby said. "It features the cutting-edge space research and science visualization beyond any we've seen before."
Planetarium staff members are also asking for the public to share memories and memorabilia of their experiences at the center throughout the years.
"We'd love to see photos of visitors' experiences," Ruby said. "We have a lot of material in the University Archives, but not many personal photos of rocket classes, telescope viewing, weddings, scouting visits and the like."