Stars align for new Chickamauga planetarium - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Stars align for new Chickamauga planetarium

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CHICKAMAUGA, GA (WRCB) -- "My purpose was to turn students on to science and the best way to do that is the night sky," says James A. Smith.

He's an educator and former teacher at Rossville High School. He opened the Smith Planetarium in Rock Spring, Georgia in 1967. It closed in 1998, but thanks to SPLOST funding of nearly $600,000 a new one will open soon in Chickamauga and it will again bear his name. He wants to continue teaching youngsters about their home--the universe.

"Whether you're looking at a flower or you're looking at a star, either way it is a part of their home," says Smith. "It's a part of them."

Life lessons learned along with the science of space. Smith also says the programs here help students who feel lost find their place in the world because the universe, Smith believes, isn't here "by accident".

"It did not just happen. It has purpose with it and destiny ahead of it," adds Smith. "And that student fits into that destiny."

A state of the art digital projector will replace the old one. The domed ceiling will show a 3-D image of the universe. The images could only been seen from Earth in the past, but will now feature much more stellar views from other vantage points like the surface of Mars or other planets.

"Anything that we want to do as far as looking at the universe and looking at the different areas, we can do now," explains Michael Tipton, Coordinator of Integrated Technology for Walker County Schools. "So just to have that capability, that's just going to be awesome."

Smith also says he hopes to add iPads and other 21st century devices to the experience.

For school administrators like Robin Samples, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Walker County Schools, the programs at the planetarium offer extra, effective tools for teachers.

"Giving those teachers opportunities, we will be able to align the curriculum with the programs that are offered."

There is also a telescope on the property, thanks to two of Smith's former students who are astronomers at NASA. The telescope is operated remotely from Huntsville, Alabama, and points to the sky during just the right phases of the moon to catch shots of meteorites shooting across the sky.

The school board approved the new facility in 2005 it was dedicated in May, 2011. The plan was to begin hosting school groups in September of 2011, but a severe storm in June damaged the adjacent building. As the stars align, everything should be in place for the planetarium to be back in business this coming September.

For Smith, it's been worth waiting for the chance to help more generations reach new frontiers.

"I'm thrilled to death with it," exclaims Smith.

According to Samples the planetarium, which is on Pond Springs Road, will be open to groups not only from Walker County schools but from neighboring counties as well. Two schools have already expressed interest in taking the field trip this September.

For more information regarding the facility and reserving your spot call 706-638-7958.

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