New planetarium offers star gazing paradise - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

New planetarium offers star gazing paradise

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WALKER COUNTY, GEORGIA (WRCB-TV) -- A retired teacher from north Georgia had a goal--open a planetarium. The road to success was long and at times tough. Storm damage in 2011 delayed Jim Smith's dream for about a year. Now, it's finally in business, taking people to a whole new world and bringing outer space indoors.

Most of the groups stopping by have comprised of school children. Smith gets great satisfaction from seeing their response to the world around them.

"That's our objective is to motivate students to want to learn more," says Smith.

He volunteers his time at the Chickamauga facility, continuing his community outreach to children well past his teaching years. The 92-seat auditorium has seen around 10 groups in the month it's been open and so far Smith couldn't be more pleased with the turnout. Shortly before Channel 3 arrived Thursday morning he had a record-setting audience.

"I think there were 95 students," recalls Smith. "Se we had to have extra chairs."

With more than 20 different programs to offer, Smith always looks for new ways to communicate with young people of all ages about the universe. On this day his class from North LaFayette Elementary has help from some pretty familiar faces--Big Bird and Elmo.

Second grader Shelby Madden's an avid star gazer. She takes almost every chance she can to see what's happening in the sky.

"When I go to feed my dogs, sometimes I'll look up and I'll see constellations and stuff," says Madden.

The field trip to the planetarium has already helped her figure out what she wants to be when she grows up.

"I want to be an astronaut," Madden proclaims.

Classmate Jackson Brewster is still undecided about space exploration as a career but he's having a great time at the show.

"My favorite part was almost everything," exclaims Brewster.

He could already pick out some constellations before seeing the show, but there's always more to learn.

"I already knew about Orion, the great hunter," boasts Brewster. "But I didn't know about the Cross."

Smith admits he couldn't have opened the planetarium on his own. He's had help from dozens of people including many from the Walker County School system, the general community at large, and funding. For more information about the facility and to reserve a visit, go to http://www.walkerschools.org/james-a-smith-planetarium/ .

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