Stars have guided mankind through history. From ancient travelers to the Space Race and continuing to today’s understanding of weather and climate, we look to astronomical patterns and their correlation to us. The educational focus of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) makes the Shiras Planetarium a valuable component for today’s learners.
In May 1965, the Shiras Planetarium opened and was dedicated to the advancement of natural science and the educational enrichment of the citizens of Marquette. This was made possible through the generosity of the Shiras Institute and the National Defense Education Act. Over fifty plus years, the Planetarium has served over 300,000 people reaching throughout the State of Michigan. Distinguished astronauts have visited and motivated students to be “Star Blazers”. NASA has donated and loaned Moon Rock samples to encourage interest in Space Discovery. The Planetarium, the only one in the Upper Peninsula, has provided inspiration through the years integrating science and entertainment in a unique educational model.
The Planetarium, through the generosity of the Shiras Institute, the L.G. Kaufman Endowment Fund and the Marquette City Commission, received a new mechanical projector in 1992. Visitors could see the current night sky and changes throughout the year. Movements of the Sun and Moon were also visible with this mechanical projector. Over time technology became obsolete and this machinery lost functionality. Parts are no longer made for the MS-8 Minolta Opto Mechanical Star Projector and advanced digital technology has replaced the obsolete mechanical projectors in many planetariums. Shiras Planetarium had a digital projection system in addition to the mechanical, but it stopped working in 2014. The most current need is to replace this system so we can once again bring visitors to explore the observable universe and so much more that is available with today’s digital technology.
Cost and Financials
The largest obstacle to overcome is the cost to bring high quality digital projection back to the Planetarium. The optimal package would include two digital projectors for the best 360 ̊ field, computers and control systems along with software and content. The price range for this, if broken into phases for individual items, would be $250,000 to a completion total of around $600,000. In 2019, the MAPS Board of Education approved $24,000 to purchase a Kvant Laser system with Pangolin Beyond software. This has been primarily a fund-raising tool combined with keeping audiences interested in the Planetarium. There are additional educational components for students to create content similar to processes used by professionals in the laser industry. Reviving the interest in programming at the Planetarium has taken energy and creativity. The current director has more than tripled the annual income with the laser shows and private events. Fundraising efforts have yielded $100,000 from Shiras Foundation with $7,500 from private sources to date. The Planetarium will never be a huge revenue maker given its seating capacity and rural location, but the privilege of having this facility available while still operating with a net income annually afford our community and students an educational opportunity that would not otherwise be available.
Plans to Implement
Goals to get the Shiras Planetarium back into the digital age include finding interested donors and grant opportunities to partner with Marquette Area Public Schools to reach the required financial need. Once we have received pledges and donations, we will formally bid out the projector replacement. Once the vendor is selected, the build-time is generally between 9 and 12 months. Upon completion of installation and training, the Shiras Planetarium and Marquette Area Public Schools will offer FREE programming to all school groups who visit during the school day as appreciation for support and encouragement for learning.
How can you help?
Marquette Area Public Schools and the Shiras Planetarium are seeking interested parties who wish to be part of the continued education of Science combined with Technology and the Arts as a primary focus. Your donations are tax deductible and will be recognized in the permanent records of the Board of Education.
Three levels of donation will be honored on a special donor wall at the Shiras Planetarium. Donors giving $2500 will be considered “Red Stars”. Donations of $5000 will be “Gold Stars” and any donation over $10,000 will be considered “Blue Stars”. Donations of other amounts will be listed on our website. All donations will help!
For additional information or inquiries, please contact William Saunders, Superintendent or Rebecca LaBrecque, Shiras Planetarium Director as identified below. Donations can also be made on the Shiras Planetarium website by visiting https://shirasplanetarium.org/donate/
William Saunders – Superintendent
Email: [email protected] Ph: 906-225-4200
Becky LaBrecque – Shiras Planetarium Director
Ph:906-458-0032 Email: [email protected]