The South Carolina State Museum will throw open its Windows to New Worlds on Saturday, letting in both people who want to explore the universe and the light from far-away stars.
In a measure of the importance of the new observatory, planetarium and 4D theater, David DeVorkin, senior curator of history of astronomy and the space sciences at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, stopped by this week to check it out.
The expansion sets up “South Carolina as an innovative and very exciting place where one can access the universe personally,” DeVorkin said. “You can gather those photons yourself that came through that telescope and carry them away with you.”
The grand opening of the $23 million project is at 9 a.m., and the first 100 people in line win free one-year memberships to the museum. Current museum members get a sneak peek of the new observatory, planetarium and 4D theater on Friday.
On Saturday, there will be the requisite ribbon-cutting with model rocket launches and a recorded greeting for South Carolina native Stephen Colbert to spice up the ceremony. Live music will be played throughout the day in the new entrance.
Shows will play in the planetarium and 4D theater throughout the day. The observatory will offer viewing opportunities from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and a special discussion at 1 p.m. by Columbia native Molly Peeples, who works with the group that operates the Hubble Space Telescope.
Museum leaders expect annual attendance to jump by 75,000 or more as people come out to see the new additions. They expect the impact to be economic and intellectual. The Windows to New Worlds project also will contribute to community pride, according to Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.
“This museum represents a state of mind that says that we can accomplish more,” Benjamin said, “that we can be more than we ever imagined, that we can dream big if we act boldly and we challenge our children, if we challenge all of our future generations, to reach for the stars.”