Project took flight when fueled by NASA grant

08/09/2014 9:43 PM

08/09/2014 9:44 PM

The new projects in the $23 million renovation/expansion of the S.C. State Museum might never have been built without the early backing of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

NASA pledged $2 million to the project in 2000. When the museum fundraising campaign stalled with the sour economy, the original deadline for spending the money passed, but the space agency extended the offer.

Willie Calloway, executive director of the museum, said NASA support was critical in persuading state legislators that matching funds could be raised if the state committed tax dollars to the project. “Their donation was the stake in the ground to get it started,” he said.

But what’s in it for NASA?

“NASA is interested in the education of children,” said Charles Duke, a former astronaut and the 10th man to walk on the moon. “This project isn’t just about the history (of space flight), it’s about what’s in the future. The kids are the next generation, and if we don’t get them motivated about space, what is the future for NASA?”

The NASA funds were directed to equipping the planetarium, where shows will allow youngsters to get the feel of traveling through space. The observatory’s remote access program lets teachers in state schools bring real-time views of space into classrooms. The first group of specially trained teachers received signed moon globes from Duke at the end of their training session in early August.

Duke, who grew up in Lancaster, is one of at least six astronauts born or raised in South Carolina, including Ronald McNair of Lake City, who died in the Challenger accident, and current NASA administrator Charles Bolden Jr. of Columbia. Several have donated memorabilia to the museum from their space trips, and the items will be displayed in a large alcove at the base of the new planetarium.

Duke and Bolden were enlisted early on to push for funding for the observatory and planetarium. “It was 20 years ago I started working on this project,” Duke said. “It was a struggle, and now to see it come to fruition is great.”

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