Torvald Hessel has been working on getting Austin a planetarium since 2003. Next month, his Texas Museum of Science & Technology will open a 33-foot dome planetarium inside the Cedar Park museum, which opened in March.
The planetarium will feature 50 removable seats that recline. It can connect eight projectors simultaneous for a resolution with more than 12 million pixels. In comparison, the University of Texas’ Godzillatron score board has 1.7 million pixels.
The new planetarium is expect to be up and running by the second week of September. The museum will be testing it out before the official launch at a gala opening on Sept. 25. The museum also will be participating in the Austin Museum Day on Sept. 20. That’s when museums around Central Texas open their doors for free and offer special exhibits and events.
The new planetarium will complement the 18-foot inflatable planetarium that the museum brings to schools. The new planetarium will allow the museum to do more programming for kids as well as for adults.
Hessel plans to have a live star talk before each showing so people can ask questions about the night sky. Shows will be hourly and range from “Back to the Moon for Good,” about our mission to return to the moon, and the Sesame Street show “One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure.”
Because the chairs are removable, Hessel also envisions the space being used for events such as weddings or dinner parties under a climate-controlled night sky.
“We can do so many things,” he says.
The planetarium cost about $200,000 and was done in part with grants worth $260,000 from the City of Cedar Park. Some money still needs to be raised.
The planetarium isn’t as big as some of the ones you might have experienced in other cities. Hessel knows this 50-seat planetarium is not large enough. “It will look stunning,” he says, “but there will be lines for it.”
A bigger scale planetarium is still in the works as is a bigger museum. “If we built a 300-foot planetarium, everyone says, ‘we’re done,’” Hessel says. He still wants to build a more permanent facility instead of the former indoor soccer complex where the museum is now and with it the bigger planetarium.
That dream, Hessel, says is five years down the road. When that happens, this new planetarium, will be able to be relocated to allow the museum to have two planetariums inside as well as the inflatable one on the road.
There is more on the horizon for this fledgling museum. Its first exhibit “Body Worlds & The Cycle of Life” has been extended through Nov. 8. When that closes, Hessel will be installing 30 new exhibits as well as removing the soccer fields and putting in regular flooring. With the contract for these 30 new exhibits, he expects the museum to begin to have a mix of permanent and rotating exhibits.
The museum has had 35,000 visitors from all over Texas and the United States come since it opened in March. Hessel expects more people to walk through the doors after the new exhibits and the planetarium open.
Hessel also expects the museum to begin creating some site-specific exhibits as well. He wants to build a Foucault pendulum, which will demonstrate the motion of the Earth, and a camera obscura, a room that will be like stepping inside a pin hole camera.
It will become a full-fledged science museum with a planetarium, he says.
Texas Museum of Science & Technology
Where: 1220 Toro Grande Drive, Cedar Park
When: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: Planetarium only, $7.50; “Body Worlds & The Cycle of Life” exhibit alone, $21 adults, $18 seniors and students, free children younger than 6; “Body Worlds” and planetarium price of “Body Worlds” plus $5; after “Body Worlds” leaves, $15 museum and planetarium
Austin Museum Day
Local museums open their doors for free on Sept. 20.
For a list of which museums are participating and what is being offered, go to austinmuseums.org.