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Space Out At The Morehead Planetarium

(Image courtesy of Mrs. Haberland)

In the sixth grade (2008-9), my science teacher, Mrs.Haberland, had a poster on the wall that stated," Reach for the moon; even if you don't succeed, you land among the stars." While other science teachers made students look down into microscopes or test tubes, Mrs. Haberland made her students look up to the stars as we learned about astronomy and The Nasa Space Missions. I enjoyed how Mrs.Haberland combined history, politics, and culture to create a full picture of the magnitude of the missions. Mrs. Haberland is about to celebrate her 20th year affiliated with Posnack School in Davie, Florida. While for almost the past thirteen years, I have developed and maintained a reverence towards Space.

(Image courtesy of Morehead)

UNC-Chapel Hill has many gems scattered across campus, and one can learn about UNC's rich basketball history or drink from the Old Well. But the Morehead Planetarium allows students and visitors alike to look up and learn about UNC's direct impact on Space Exploration. I had the chance to speak to Todd B., Executive Director of the Morehead Planetarium, to learn more about why you should visit the Planetarium next time you are in Chapel Hill.

(Image courtesy of Morehead)

1. What is the Morehead Planetarium?

It's a place where the sky isn't even the limit. We hope that we expand your universe when you raise your eyes and sights to the night sky. We're a contemporary Science Center focused on the science currently researched and studied on The UNC-Chapel Hill campus. Most of our employees are student employees, and we are the second largest employer of undergraduate students on UNC-Chapel Hill's campus. It's a learning experience not just confined to our physical building on Franklin Street. Before the pandemic, we had programs in all of North Carolina, one hundred counties for the past five years.

(Image courtesy of Morehead)

2. What is the Planetarium's history?

From 1960 to 1975, Morehead was asked to provide all of the training for the astronauts in the NASA program in the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Lab missions. We trained the astronauts in celestial navigation to help them orient themselves in space where is there is no horizon. The astronauts were in a spacecraft where they could see only 1/8 of the sky. During this time period, the navigation system was rudimentary by today's standards.The navigation systems they used had to be reset often, so the astronauts used what they learned at Morehead to reset and recalibrate the navigate systems.

(Image courtesy of NASA. Image description says, " February 1962, Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. looks into a globe, technically the "Celestial Training Device" at the Aeromedical Laboratory at Cape Canaveral, Florida.")

There were three missions where the navigation system ultimately failed. The first was Mercury-Atlas Eight, flown by Gordon Cooper. Copper's navigation system failed, and he was forced to land manually. Ironically, it was the most accurate splashdown of the Mercury missions. The second one was the Apollo Twelve Mission. During the Apollo Twelve Mission, a lightning strike on the rail contained the navigation system. The crew immediately implemented Morehead Planetarium's navigation instructions to reset the navigation system. Once they completed that, the mission succeeded. The last and most famous one was the Apollo Thirteen Mission. On that mission, there was an explosion, and the navigation system and electrical systems were no longer workable. A debris cloud surrounded the spacecraft, and the crew needed to avoid the debris cloud (which dissipated before re-enter) to land safely. They used the skills taught at Morehead to help them land safely once they returned to earth.

(Credit to Nasa.Image says," In February 1962, Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. looks into a globe, technically the "Celestial Training Device" at the Aeromedical Laboratory at Cape Canaveral, Florida.")

3. How does Morehead engage with the Chapel Hill community?

A part of our mission is to provide opportunities for students at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by engaging undergraduate and grad students. Our undergraduate students run the planetarium, and the professional staff mentors the students and provides training, support, and logistical help. When you visit Morehead, you will interact with a Carolina student. A student can deliver the program in the planetarium theater, work at guest services, or write the content for the show. Morehead Planetarium allows visitors to interact with some of the brightest students from all over the world.

(Image courtesy of Morehead)

4. What is the future of the Planetarium?

The planetarium was closed for a significant renovation since May 2019. We ran a skeletal operation during the pandemic and re-opened to the public in November 2020. Morehead follows CDC COVID-19 guidelines, including reduced capacity. Shortly, we are hoping to have different kinds of interactive experiences to engage UNC faculty.

(Image courtesy of Morehead)


Me on my first day of graduate school

Rachel Huss

Thank you so much for stopping by and reading my blog! Please reach out if you have any ideas for content, partnerships, and more!

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