Waterloo Museum to provide updated planetarium experience


WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) – Waterloo’s latest new attraction is an experience like no other.

The 65-year-old planetarium in the Grout Museum District, 503 South St., has undergone a $ 200,000 renovation. With the touch of an iPad, a new state-of-the-art projection system will transport audiences to Jupiter, Saturn, Mars or any planet, galaxy or star, deep in the ancient Mayan jungle, the Christmas night sky – the possibilities are endless – and all in amazing detail.

It is an immersive experience that aims to educate, engage and entertain visitors.

“We can land on any planet and explore. We can move forward and backward in time. We can go into space in real time. We can host our own shows or choose from a selection of available programs, ”Alan Sweeney, director of facilities and exhibitions, told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

Renamed the Norris Corson Family Planetarium, the museum’s Star Room is one of only three planetariums in Iowa to offer public programming. The planetarium is open to members only until December 23. From December 27, it will be open to the public.

Installed in 1956, the planetarium underwent some renovations in 1976 with the installation of a new star projector. “After nearly 50 years, none of the star ball buttons or switches were working. When we closed due to COVID, it gave us the perfect time to start the renovation project, ”Sweeney said. He did the demolition work himself.

The original star projector is now in a display case right outside the planetarium door.

The planetarium now features a 4K laser projection system installed by Bowen Technovations of Indianapolis, a Digitalis planetarium control system, LED lighting and 5.1 surround sound. Specialized silver tint coating was painted over the original dome, cove lighting installed for more special lighting effects, and 30 theater-style reclining seats installed. There is also a new electrical system and carpet.

Sweeney described his first experience with the planetarium’s new ability as “breathtaking”. It’s so new that we’re still trying to figure out what we can do. Everything is computerized and integrated. Now we can just go in, press a button, slide the iPad, and start a show. It gives us so much flexibility.

In a recent test presented to 30 third-graders, “the whole room erupted with cheers and applause,” he said.

Sweeney credits Barbara Corson as the driving force behind the renovation. Corson has been fascinated by astronomy since his childhood and a great traveler. She is passionate about museums. “We have a world class museum in the Grout, and I have always been grateful that the Grout has a planetarium, but after so many years the equipment was no longer operational,” Corson said.

She took action and contacted the director of the Grout Museum, Billie Bailey, to organize a planetarium committee that would work out a plan and raise funds. “The end result is fantastic,” she said.

A new effort, “Opening New Doors”, will begin in January to raise funds to improve the accessibility and functioning of the museum and planetarium.

Other planetarium contributors include Black Hawk County Gaming Association, Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, Cathy Livingston Fund (Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa), The Leighty Fund, Sandra Rada-Aleff, Sally Darragh, Kathy Breckunitch, Frederick W. Mast Family Fund and Greg and Lynette Harter.

Admission to the planetarium is $ 6 for adults and $ 3 for children. Members of the museum are free. Members can watch shows at 3 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturdays through December 23. From December 27 to 31, audiences can view shows at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. after December 31. weekday shows are at 3 p.m. and 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturdays.


Arline J. Mercier