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Stargazer’s Paradise

U of L’s Rauch Planetarium
offers something for everyone

By Ruth Wright,
Contributing Writer

(April 2002) LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Are April showers hindering your star-gazing activities? Then you might want to consider a trip to Gheens Science Hall and Rauch Planetarium on the University of Louisville campus.
The 9,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility, which opened its doors to the public last spring, replaced the Rauch Memorial Planetarium, which was razed in 1998.
The original planetarium was named in honor of Rabbi Joseph Rauch, a prominent Louisville civic leader and rabbi of the Adath Israel congregation who served on the boards of trustees of the University of Louisville and of the Louisville Free Public Library.

Rauch Planetarium

Rauch Planetarium

The planetarium was dedicated at a ribbon cutting ceremony on April 17, 1962, marking the opening of the first planetarium in Kentucky.
Primarily providing educational programs for students, Rauch Memorial Planetarium served the community for 25 years under the supervision of planetarium director Tom Boone. However, due to operating budget deficits, university officials considered shutting down the facility in the late 1980s.
In 1989 a decision was made to keep the planetarium open on a break-even basis. In 1991 the Roving Astronomer Program, a community outreach program, was introduced. The program, which is still in existence, provides education for school groups unable to make a trip to the planetarium.
Although the planetarium continued to serve the community through the 1990s, budget issues and a need for space forced university trustees to revisit alternative uses for the property. In November 1997, the trustees decided to tear down the planetarium to make room for a parking garage for the J.B. Speed Art Museum. The decision captured public attention and concern.
Support was rallied for the planetarium, and local community leaders, along with city and county officials, began to discuss ways to fund the construction of a new planetarium.
Major funding in the form of a $1.45 million contribution from the Gheens Foundation, a private trust formed by the Gheens family of Louisville, to help fund educational projects in the community secured a future for the planetarium.
The Paul Ogle Foundation followed suit with a $500,000 pledge, and the City of Louisville, Jefferson County and the University of Louisville made pledges of $250,000 each.
The last presentation in the Rauch Memorial Planetarium was held on Feb. 6, 1998, marking 36 years of service to the community.
The following month, the old planetarium was razed, and that spring, the architectural firm of Louis and Henry of Louisville began work on plans for the new planetarium and science center. Fundraising for the project continued with total contributions of over $3 million by December 2000.
A site was chosen on the university campus close to the Speed Art Museum parking garage, and on Dec. 13, 1999, the groundbreaking ceremony was held. Special guest John Glenn, a former astronaut and senator, told those present at the ceremony, “The more we excite people about space – something that is bigger than all of us – the better.”
That goal was realized in the community on April 24, 2001, at the grand opening of the new Gheens Science Hall and Rauch Planetarium.
The new facility, which celebrated its first anniversary in March and continuing into April, has exciting educational and entertainment programs to offer the community. Unlike the old planetarium, the new facility is multi-capable.
In addition to traditional astronomy programs, the planetarium also offers musical laser shows and high definition video presentations, such as the current Cinamuse program, “Diving with Whales.” State-of-the-art technology, which includes a wrap-around video system, 3D computer modeled imagery, 360-degree panoramic slide and video projection, as well as an advanced digital, multi-channel, 15,000-watt surround sound system treat visitors to a truly unique experience of light and sound.
The facility has many services to offer the community, from educational programs for students of all ages to technical support, such as video conferencing, for businesses, according to planetarium director Shawn Laatsch. However, the current challenge is getting the word out to the public.
“Most people don’t know we’re here yet,” says Laatsch.
Because the planetarium is operated on a 100 percent cost recovery basis, continued support from the community is necessary.
“We are looking to build an endowment that will fund a substantial part of our annual budget,” says Laatsch. Naming opportunities also still exist and corporate sponsorships are being accepted.
The planetarium is open Tuesday through Friday. The planetarium’s gift shop, the Supply Ship, offers a variety of merchandise from astronaut ice cream to videos and CD-ROMs.

• A current program schedule and hours of operation are posted on the Web at www.louisville.edu/planetarium. For information, call (502) 852-6664.

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