The Gene Roddenberry Planetarium launched its inaugural show in its new space last week, eclipsing the original 52-year-old dome with new high-tech features and updated programming.
Don Haskins PK-8 School sixth graders were the first group of students to see the new planetarium, which was carved out of the former Crosby Elementary multipurpose center to replace the original planetarium built in 1969 inside the former EPISD Education Center on Boeing Drive.
“This is the best classroom in the district,” said Tim Holt, director of special projects who led today’s lesson. “A planetarium is an informal science place that gets away from the traditional classroom. The nearest one is in Alamogordo. Kids would actually have to travel out of town to get this same experience.”
The new Roddenberry planetarium, which was partially funded through a City of El Paso Community Development Block Grant, resumed its fieldtrips for EPISD students Wednesday. Public shows and field trip opportunities for other school districts also are expected to continue.
An official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Roddenberry planetarium is being planned. In the meantime, students from throughout the area will be able to get a preview of the updated curricula that has been designed around the new features of the facility.
“We are so excited to welcome kids today. We haven’t had kids for two years because of COVID and the construction,” Holt said. “We’ve added more music and lighting effects, so hopefully kids who may been to the planetarium in the past will get a whole new experience.”
The Haskins sixth graders that visited this week got a glimpse into the night’s sky and a lesson on astronomy in a life-like replica of El Paso’s sky projected onto the 360-degree dome. The program concluded with a video about telescopes, their origins and their importance in the discovery of planets.
“We try to align the programming with the science TEKS and we’re adding more fine arts, so students know you don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy astronomy. You can be a poet, artist, writer or even a musician,” said Holt, who strategically played background music featuring celestial themes.
It was an experience for sixth grader Santiago Torres, who mostly enjoyed the star talk portion of the program.
“I really liked the stars and looking at the planet, and when he was telling story about Pegasus,” Santiago said. “It’s really cool. The chairs were comfy, too.”
The Roddenberry dome’s stars and planet also were the most impressive for sixth grader Davna Rosenfield.
“I thought it was so cool. Especially the roof. I loved how it showed the stars and the planets.”
The sixth grader recalled her previous trips to the original planetarium as an elementary student, but found the new experience vastly different.
“I think we’re lucky we got to come here,” she said. “I thought it was cool to learn about the constellations and see how the telescope worked. I really liked it a lot. I had fun.”