Orb swirls with science lessons at new visitors center

October 5, 2012
photo - The Space Foundation opened the doors to the new Northrop Grumman Science Center that features the Science on a Sphere interactive display to special guests on Friday, October 5, 2012. Photo by MICHAEL CIAGLO/The Gazette
The Space Foundation opened the doors to the new Northrop Grumman Science Center that features the Science on a Sphere interactive display to special guests on Friday, October 5, 2012. Photo by MICHAEL CIAGLO/The Gazette 

Clouds and storms spun across a six-foot diameter globe, showing weather patterns on earth. Moments later, the history of the moon unfolded. And then, the globe portrayed the details of Mars, with a pin to show the landing site of Curiosity.

Science on a Sphere is a powerful teaching tool for students, whether preschoolers, graduates or any time in between, Space Foundation officials said. Visitors appeared spellbound during a demonstration of the Science on a Sphere technology at the Space Foundation Visitors Center during a ribbon-cutting Friday.

“We can show them real-time data, we can show them information from the past,” said Amy Robinson, space education specialist with the foundation.

Four projectors turn the 55-pound sphere into a teaching tool offering views of things including planets, the sun and starscapes. Lesson plans are in line with Colorado curriculum across subject areas, she said.

Although the sphere allows students and adults to explore space, it can also display details of life on earth, such as population density and Facebook relationships.

The Space Foundation Visitors Center opens Tuesday, although classes have been using the Northrop Grumman Science Center for sessions of Science on a Sphere.

“We are so excited about what we will be able to offer students,” said Eliot Pulham, Space Foundation chief executive officer. “It gives them something they can see and touch and relate to.”

Northrop Grumman donated $375,000 to create the science center and teaching lab, another contribution in a yearslong relationship.

“The activities here will inspire and educate people of all ages and set some of them out on careers that will make their dreams of future space missions a reality,” said Gary Ervin, corporate vice president and Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems president.

There’s only 85 Science On a Sphere installations in the world, including the one in Colorado Springs. The technology was developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, and there are several around the state.

“We’re using ours as a teaching tool, not just as a novelty,” said Janet Stevens, foundation spokeswoman.

The Northrop Grumman Science Center will be used for science classes, and students will have first dibs on the tool even when the Visitors Center is open to the public.

“It’s important to our entire industry,” said Lon Rains, director of strategic communications for Northrop Grumman.

“Space is one of the things that excites kids about science,” he said.

Although the Space Foundation has sought a Science on a Sphere for some time, the agreement between Northrop Grumman and the nonprofit came together about six months ago during this year’s Space Symposium.

The project was on a list of goals when the Space Foundation and Colorado Springs School District 11 signed an agreement about three years ago. The foundation took over space adjacent to Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy, a middle school, and offers programs for students and teachers.

At that time, the Space Foundation’s headquarters had no public areas. The nonprofit moved to new headquarters about a year ago.

Extensive and expensive changes to the building at Swigert would’ve been required to accommodate the sphere, Stevens said.

“There’s a phenomenal amount of space here,” she said of the headquarters at the Arrowswest facility.

Other labs and programs will remain at Swigert, Stevens said.

“We can do activities at both locations,” she said.

The agreement for the headquarters building is for the Space Foundation to stay for at least 15 years.

Even with the Visitors Center, the foundation is only using part of the building. Many current displays focus on the moon, including the Soviet Union’s long-secret lunar landings.

“We have a lot of really cool stuff in the back,” Stevens said, adding that the group is raising money to add exhibits.

“We have some rocket models that wouldn’t fit into a regular building.”

Pulham said the Visitors Center is a fraction of the space the foundation wants to open up to the public, although expansion will be incremental.

“The stuff you see is the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Visitors Center

The Space Foundation Visitors Center, 4425 Arrowswest Dr., opens Tuesday. It will be open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and the first Saturday of the month. It will be closed Nov. 22 and Dec. 17 through Jan. 1.

Admission: $5, adults; $4, seniors 65 and older and students with ID; $2, children ages 4 through 17; free, children younger than 3 and military members with photo ID.

For more information, visit the website at www.spacefoundation.org/visit.

Contact Kristina Iodice: 636-0162 Twitter @GazetteKristina Facebook Kristina Iodice

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