Sitting in the backwards-leaning seats in the large, dome-covered planetarium at the H.R. MacMillan Space Center was a bit surreal for me. I’ve been there before, many times. When we came out west in the summer time when I was young we’d often go to the planetarium for a show. It was an odd mixture of excitement and comfort, to be somewhere I liked so much as a kid.
I’ve been there with Cameron before too. But it didn’t last very long. He started screaming as the lights went down. He did the same with Maite and Philippe when they took the boys ages ago too.
But this time was different, for a few reasons. First, Leif, Kate, and Grandma and Grandpa were there with us. He’d seen the projector, Harold, before. And this time, he had asked to come, and he knew the show would be about planets. In fact, it was titled Harold’s Solar System. So he had a good look at the projector, nestled down in its depression in the middle of the room, and was reminded that they’d probably lift it up high so we could see it, and that he shouldn’t be scared. It’s just a projector, that’s all.
As the show got started, there was a little fearful whining from Cameron, but the humour of the show took over. Harold was cranky, he’d been watching TV. And someone had left their lunch on his lenses (at which point the projections on the dome overhead were of various lunch items). Soon Cameron was giggling … and then he was fascinated. There were constellations, just as we’d talked about! There was Orion! And then we learned about the sun, and the planets of our solar system. He’s loved Jupiter the most since seeing it through Grandpa’s telescope, though it’s followed closely by Mars and Venus.
From the comments and laughter, Kate enjoyed the show too.
I however was a little disappointed. Not in Cameron or Kate, but in the show and the space center. Leif said that it was like the hatches in Lost, like stepping back into rooms filled with outdated technology, things that would’ve been amazing and cutting-edge a couple of decades ago, but now seem quaint and almost humorous. The technology of the projector in the planetarium is actually pretty cool, given that it’s around 40 years old, and can surely handle a more modern display. We live in times of CG animation, which could be used to put together a stunning tour of the solar system. Instead, it was little more than a slide show that’s barely changed in 30 years short of including a few new pictures and shifting Pluto’s status a little. The space centre had many woefully out of date displays that in my opinion weren’t presented in a very attractive or educational manner for a wide age range. It’s aimed at older kids, for sure, without much beyond a corner with a colouring table for the younger set. There’s so much that they could do (admittedly with a large cash injection that I cannot offer) that would make this an excellent and amazing learning centre.
These are the nitpickings of a grownup, though. The kids had a blast, and that’s what really matters. Cameron was mesmerized by the planetarium show, and continues to bring it up now, over a month later. The live science show on rockets had Cameron’s eyes bugging out a couple of times, especially as the presenter lit fuel in a pop-bottle ‘rocket’ and sent it flying across the stage (safely, on a line). He loved standing in the photo-op space suit with a moon backdrop, and he asked lots of questions about what he saw. Oh, and the mars rover model was a hit. Kate really seemed to like the “what would you look like if you were an alien” game. In all, the afternoon inspired Cameron, and I’ve heard snippets I’m sure came from there turn up in his play and discussions.
In all, a neat place to visit for kids who are interested in space. And I’m sure we’ll wind up there again. And if the Space Center asks, I’ve got a whole lot of ideas about how to upate it!