LUMBERTON – The Robeson Planetarium and Science Center is set to reopen to the public with a brand new schedule and location.
On June 12, the planetarium will feature at least two public programs at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., featuring Martian rovers Perseverance, Curiosity and Chinese Zhurong.
What will differentiate these programs is that they will be held in person at the newly renovated location, in what was once the cafeteria of the former Janie C. Hargrave Elementary School. The old school, located at 100 Hargrave Street, is also home to the Robeson County Central Office Public Schools.
“Robeson County Public Schools are very pleased to announce the reopening of our planetarium to students from across the district,” said Gordon Burnette, director of communications for PSRC.
The new location was chosen to align with the original planetarium’s proximity to the PSRC central office on Caton Road, Burnette said.
The original office and planetarium were flooded in Hurricane Matthew, destroying the facilities. In 2017, the planetarium found a new home at the Partnership for Children on Chestnut Street in Lumberton before moving to Janie C. Hargrave in 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“A new location for the planetarium may be discussed in the future, if a suitable location in the county can be found,” Burnette said.
Brandt said he was “really grateful” for the administrative support from the PSRC in finding a new home for the planetarium.
“The administration really did its best,” Brandt said. “It could have created about 15 offices, but instead they created a place where I could do things for the kids, so that’s really good.”
The school system worked with Brandt to determine the safest way to reopen its doors to the public.
“We talked about safety and I collected different articles from museums, science centers and institutions around the world on how they reopen safely, and we are among the first portable or inflatable domes to reopen,” Brandt said.
Throughout the pandemic, the planetarium has offered virtual programs, which have proven to be successful, Brandt said.
“A lot of people don’t really know how to do virtual planetarium stuff and how to program, how to switch from one type of software to another smoothly, and I like to think I’m pretty good at it, with a lot of practice, ”Brandt said.
During the pandemic, Brandt performed for more than 6,000 children in grades two, three, four and six. He also hosted numerous virtual community and planetarium programs during the pandemic. But nothing beats experiencing the shows in person.
“It will be wonderful to see faces and children interacting with things and hearing their reaction in real time,” Brandt said. “It’s really hard to do that virtually – to immerse them in the night sky.
“Children can look around and see them all around them. On the computer screen, it’s right in front of them in a box, so it’s harder to get that immersive feel. “
The renovated facility will feature several interactive exhibits where attendees can learn, in addition to the 20-foot-long inflatable planetarium.
The planetarium uses Nightshade, a simulation and visualization system that is projected inside the structure to feel like you are under the night sky or in space.
“Our new program will focus on the three rovers we currently have on Mars,” Brandt said.
During the June broadcasts, Brandt will help attendees find out what makes these Martian rovers work and how they have been doing so far. A guest speaker from the Jet Propulsion Lab in California will connect via Zoom to discuss the rovers and answer questions about persistence and curiosity.
Admission is free, but participation in each event is limited to 20 people per program. Current PSRC policy requires social distancing and masks must be worn by everyone inside the planetarium and science center.
“It will be a safe environment,” Brandt said.
To schedule a time for a small group or family, contact Joy Ivey at 910-671-6000, ext. 3381.
Programs have also been scheduled throughout the summer for the PSRC and Robeson Community College summer camps. Other camp groups are welcome to plan events.
“Mr. Brandt, director of the PSRC planetarium, has done a tremendous job hosting free virtual programs for students and community members since the start of the pandemic, and we are happy that students now have the opportunity. to learn and participate in person, “said Burnette.” The planetarium is a source of education and entertainment for everyone in Robeson County, and we hope members of our community will be able to attend programs in person in the near future. ”