Constructed in 1965, the Manfred Olson Planetarium at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has stimulated the curiosity of over 600,000 visitors. Its Spitz A3P star projector, the central component of the original instrumentation suite, casts a surprisingly realistic star field across the projection theater's 30-foot hemispherical dome ceiling. After 43 years in service, the A3P remains a sparkling example of Apollo-era opto-mechanical engineering.
This equipment was kept in good order by John G. Harmon, who had directed the facility until he retired after 38 years of service. The last project he oversaw was in 2002: the theater's floor tiles and seats were replaced. After his retirement, Dr. Jean M. Creighton became Planetarium Director in January 2007.
In Spring 2008, a $40,000 renovation project was undertaken under Dr. Creighton's supervision, with funds primarily from the Halbert & Alice Kadish Foundation, but also from the UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters and Science, and the UWM Physics Department. Carpentry, electrical work, fresh paint, new lighting, a larger console desk, computers, DVI data projectors, and a pro-audio quality sound system have re-invented the planetarium theater as an immersive multimedia studio.
Carpenters and painters from UWM's Facility Services fabricated, prepared, and installed new equipment shelves around the circumference of the theater, and electricians installed fluorescent work lights and additional electrical service. The new configuration simplifies deployment of multimedia systems and makes the theater environment safer and more aesthetically pleasing.
Rick Pirko (right) of the Ward Beecher Planetarium at Youngstown State University in Ohio was contracted to clean and paint the theater's dome and walls and complete some minor repairs. Pirko’s team did exceptional work, giving the Manfred Olson Planetarium a much-needed facelift.
The theater's new Pleiades horizon lighting system, a tri-color LED configuration, was designed and manufactured by East Coast Control Systems, a Pennsylvania-based vendor of technology solutions for planetariums. The system uniformly illuminates the entire "sky" in brilliant RGB color, a significant advance over the theater's old blue-and-white incandescent system. The Pleiades system was installed by Mark Perkins from Ash Enterprises, a planetarium equipment and service firm with offices in three states.
The new furniture, computers, audio, and multimedia systems were selected under Dr. Creighton's approval by Stephen M. Nelson, a Senior at UWM who has served as the planetarium program's computer systems administrator and technical advisor (he graduates in May 2008).
Dr. Creighton regards the planetarium program as a tremendous opportunity for public educational outreach, and hopes the theater's new look and capabilities will help her engage the imaginations of participants of all ages for years to come. Grand reopening was held on Friday, April 4 with the debut of the new Starry Night program “Stars in the Spring”. Starry Night is a public live show delivered in the planetarium theater every Friday at 7:00 pm. The theater can also be booked for private shows and school field trips. Please check our website for events on May 10, Astronomy Day.
The Manfred Olson Planetarium extends thanks to all who helped make this renovation possible: Mr. Paul F. Meissner from the Halbert & Alice Kadish Foundation needs to be singled out for the Foundation's extraordinary contribution; Dean Marija Gajdardziska-Josifovska, Dean Richard G. Meadows, and Jennifer McKenzie-Flynn from the College of Letters and Science; Howard Shimon from the Purchasing Department; Dan Heger, George Jurss, Eric Kozak from the University Services Building. The Manfred Olson Planetarium acknowledges support from faculty in the Center for Gravitation and Cosmology in Physics: the equipment purchased enhances the planetarium experience for the general public and enables students at all levels to participate in research involving remote observing of pulsars.
Many thanks also to the staff from the Physics Department: Gerald Becker, Jay Dobberke, James Generotzky, Mike Itzenhuiser, Johnny Jackson, Stephen Kennedy, and Kate Valerius.