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August 1, 2014

SC astronaut honors teachers at new museum observatory

Astronaut, moon-walker and South Carolina native Charles Duke on Friday celebrated the new additions to the S.C. State Museum while honoring a group of teachers training to expand those additions into classrooms.

Astronaut, moon-walker and South Carolina native Charles Duke on Friday celebrated the new additions to the S.C. State Museum while honoring a group of teachers training to expand those additions into classrooms.

The original purpose of the visit was for Duke, a Lancaster native, to sign over the rights to his space memorabilia to the museum. Much of the memorabilia has been in the museum collection for years, but 2012 legislation switched ownership from NASA to the individual astronauts. Duke wanted to formalize his long-ago donation in his own name.

Museum officials took the chance to give Duke a quick tour of the new observatory, planetarium and 4D theater slated to open on Aug. 16. He was impressed.

“I’ve been working off-and-on on this project for about 20 years,” Duke said. “Being South Carolina’s first astronaut, I started to come over and started lobbying the Legislature and corporations and individuals. It was a struggle, but we finally got some traction after a few years, and now to see the fruition of all of that hard work that hundreds of people put into it … is very satisfying.”

Duke was on the crew of Apollo 16 and has the special distinction of being the 10th of 12 men to walk on the moon. On Friday, he signed globes of the moon given to five teachers who spent this week coming up with ideas for linking the observatory to classrooms. Those five will be the guinea pigs this year, learning how to best integrate the observatory’s remote capabilities into lesson plans. The teachers worked on building mini-rovers for students to take on imaginary flights to other planets.

Teachers all over the state eventually will be able to sign up for time on the observatory telescope and then operate the telescope remotely from their schools.

“It’s going to allow the students to see real world situations, no matter where they are in the state,” said Amy Baldwin, who teaches Gateway to Technology at Oakbrook Middle School in Summerville. “They’ll be able to take more ownership. It’s not just looking at some pictures on the internet.”

Duke, who got to test the devices used to open the observatory dome and adjust the telescope angle, is excited about the possibilities created by the new additions to the museum.

“I think it’ll stimulate the kids,” Duke said. “It’ll help bring alive some of the history of South Carolina astronauts ... and hopefully it will stimulate the kids to reach for the stars and plan a career that maybe they could (go to the moon) one day, and on to Mars.”

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