It takes less than 20 minutes to go to Mars from America the Beautiful Park in downtown Colorado Springs. That’s a lot quicker than the nine months NASA has projected a trip to the red planet will take given current rocket technology.
Or at least that’s what Jesse Collette, chairman of Planet Walk Colorado Springs, has in mind.
On Sept. 7 temporary markers representing the sun and the solar system’s planets were placed along the Santa Fe Trail to give an approximation of what Collette and her group hope will be a permanent installation.
The “Planet Walk” would stretch from the sun near America the Beautiful Park’s Fantasy Playground to Pluto in the northern El Paso County town of Monument.
About 50 people took a shorter “trip” on the 7th, following Monument Creek past the inner planets to Mars at the southern edge of Monument Valley Park just past the Bijou Street bridge, collecting stickers as “space passports.”
Collette said the group hopes to get the Planet Walk, built to scale to represent the distances between planets, installed within two years. In the meantime, they’ll be raising money and looking for artists to sculpt the models of the planets.
Despite Pluto being downgraded from planet status in 2006, Collette said the organization decided to include it for “sentimental reasons.”
“The whole planetary designation is somewhat arbitrary,” he said laughing. “There are some scientists that think you could name 131 planets in our solar system.”
The inspiration came to Collette nearly a decade ago as he traveled along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage, Alaska. He said he was fascinated by the trail’s “Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk,” installation.
“I thought, ‘Back in Colorado Springs we’ve got the perfect trail network for this thing...’” he said.
The “Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk” was completed in 2005 and cost about $250,000. Collette believes it can be done for much less in Colorado Springs.
Collette first pitched the idea to the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services in 2017 and has won the endorsement of the department’s advisory board.
Last week’s walkthrough was intended to spark public interest and publicize the need for donations, Collette said.
“A lot of people are intimidated by science and they shouldn’t be,” he said. “Science is really just people trying to understand natural phenomena. Because people are intimated by it, art is a way to open it up and make it more interesting.”