On Planetariums and John McCain’s Short-Sightedness

When I was younger, my father used to take me, my brother, and my sister to the planetarium on a regular basis.

I loved it. Lean back in the chair, look up at the presentation, and learn something about the universe we live in.

My interest in astronomy was kindled by Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. The planetarium excursions furthered it.

I learned incredible things thanks to the planetarium. I learned about planets. I learned about how the ancients viewed the universe. I learned about the triple conjunctions that may have been the Star of Bethleham of Christianity’s origins.

Take a child to a planetarium, and it will open his eyes. There’s a vast universe out there, and we’re just a small piece of it.

Thus, I have a particular fondness for planetariums.

And it upset me to hear John McCain denigrate planetariums last night.

Barack Obama had voted for 3 million dollars for a projector for the University of Chicago’s planetarium.
Now, if you’ve never seen a planetarium’s projector, you may not know what it looks like. It’s a pretty massive piece of equipment. It looks like absolutely nothing else. It’s not a conventional piece of machinery, and it’s specialized for projecting stars and planets onto a domed ceiling to simulate the night sky. It’s not any sort of conventional projector. It’s specialized equipment.

John McCain thought this was wasteful spending.

In reality, John McCain isn’t denigrating just planetariums. He’s denigrating education.

This, from Andrey Kravtsov, the Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Chicago, a person who would be working with this piece of equipment:

I find it appalling that Sen. McCain would call a science education tool for public (largely children) for a historic planetarium with millions of visitors a year a wasteful earmark. The planetarium’s focus, as stated on their website (http://adlerplanetarium.org) is “on inspiring young people, particularly women and minorities, to pursue careers in science.” Is an investment in such public facility at the time when US competitiveness in math and sciences is a constant source of alarm a waste?

Planetariums inspire dreamers. Planetariums inspire people to become curious about science and math and the wider universe. Open a child’s eyes with the wonders of the universe, and we’ll inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists, the very people we need to develop new technologies like renewable and alternate energy sources or new and innovative ways to access space and harvest its resources.

Education is important for America’s future. Railing against funding for a new projector at a planetarium demonstrates John McCain’s short-sightedness.

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