An inflatable planetarium at the March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California allows visitors to learn about distant galaxies and space travel.
The Discovery Dome was originally loaned to the museum by NASA for the month of March. More than 2,000 people visited the inflatable planetarium to attend the show entitled “We Choose Space!” The show is a 3D educational presentation about the International Space Station and the prospect of humans living on the moon in the future. The show is narrated by astronauts Scott Parazinsky, Tom Jones, and Gene Cernan and the late news anchor Walter Cronkite.
A survey taken before and after the show revealed that most viewers came out knowing more about space than they did when they arrived at the inflatable planetarium.
The show was so popular and such a valuable educational tool that museum officials decided to raise $30,000 to purchase their own inflatable planetarium in September. They began offering shows in November. The dome can also be used at schools on Mondays, when the museum is closed.
The dome measures 17 feet in diameter and is shaped like a giant igloo. It is inflated with an air blower and is constructed of lightweight, durable material. An airlock door allows it to retain its shape as visitors enter and leave. Twenty to 30 people can lie on beanbags or sit on folding chairs to watch the show. The planetarium uses digital technology and a Newtonian mirror system attached to a laptop to project images onto the dome.
Both children and adults have been captivated by the show at the inflatable planetarium. Museum officials and teachers believe it is a valuable tool to get children excited about science.
Former middle school teacher Lauren Ard used her craftiness to teach kids about the constellations. After her school did not have the funds for a field trip to the planetarium, she had to find a way to bring the universe to her students.
Ard wanted her students to experience astronomy in a fun and exciting way so she went online to find ideas. She happened to come across an inflatable planetarium and she made one herself. The inflatable planetarium is circular in form and made from a black out fabric. A fan is used to inflate it and there is a projector on the inside that displays the different constellations. It is 12 feet in diameter and can fit up to 15 people inside it.
Her custom inflatable turned out to be a big success. She used it with her own class and then over time was doing astronomy presentations for events, friends, families, and a few other schools. She was doing the presentations for free but after she heard that the local science museum wouldn’t be doing their astronomy show anymore she saw it as a way to raise money.
“I heard that the Flandrau Science Center had cuts in funding and they used to do 30 minute presentations with their inflatable planetarium for people where they were charged $130. They had waitlists, but because of cuts in funding they no longer offer it. I wouldn’t charge that much and I’m not trying to get money from public schools, but more it’s a way for me to use my teaching talents.”
Knowing she had the opportunity to do more astronomy presentations she started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money so she could build a bigger and better inflatable planetarium. She hopes to raise $4,500, but she has already received great support and has received over $5,500 in donations.