Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
|Reuben H. Fleet Science Center|
|Location||1875 El Prado, Balboa Park, San Diego, California 92101|
|Director||Jeffrey W. Kirsch, Ph.D.|
The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center is a science museum and planetarium in Balboa Park in San Diego, California. Established in 1973, it was the first science museum to combine interactive science exhibits with a planetarium and an IMAX Dome (OMNIMAX) theater, setting the standard that most major science museums follow today.
The facility is named for aviation pioneer Reuben H. Fleet, who founded the U.S. Air Mail service. Fleet's San Diego-based company, Consolidated Aircraft, built several of the famous aircraft of World War II, including the B-24 Liberator and PBY Catalina. Fleet and his family made the initial gift which established the Science Center.
Throughout the 1960s, the San Diego Hall of Science (now known as the San Diego Space and Science Foundation) was planning a new planetarium for San Diego's Balboa Park, with the possibility of an adjacent science hall. The site on Laurel Street opposite the San Diego Natural History Museum was reserved in 1963.
The planetarium was designed to have several innovative features. First of all, the 76-foot-diameter (23 m) dome would be tilted 25 degrees. The audience would be placed in tiered rows facing outward into the tilted dome to give the feeling of being suspended in space. Also, the founders wanted to develop a large-format film projection system to show movies on the dome. The movies would use the innovative idea of filming through a fisheye lens. This would create a highly distorted image on the film, but with a 180-degree panoramic view. When projected on the dome through another fisheye lens, the distortion would be reversed, and the original panoramic view would be recreated. The audience would have a view that was like being at the original scene. Finally, they wanted to eliminate the large dumbbell-shaped star projector used in traditional planetariums, which juts from the center of the room and blocks part of the view, and would also interfere with the movies being projected onto the dome.
The San Diego Hall of Science approached Spitz Laboratories to create a new type of star projector that would not obstruct the view for part of the audience or interfere with the movie projection system. Spitz created a servo-controlled "starball" that became the centerpiece of the system, dubbed a "Space Transit Simulator". The spherical star projector and a number of independent planet projectors maintained a low profile while projecting a realistic sky for the astronomy presentations. These elements, along with a number of slide projectors and lighting systems, were all controlled by a PDP-15 minicomputer. Unlike conventional planetariums, which are limited to showing the night sky as it appears from various points on the surface of the Earth at various dates, the STS could show the sky as it would appear from anywhere within about 100 astronomical units of Earth (about three times the radius of Pluto's orbit). A joystick even allowed the operator to "fly" the theater through space, showing the resulting apparent movement of planets through the sky, though in practice the planetarium presentations were always pre-programmed. The STS was used for many years but was replaced by an Evans and Sutherland Digistar II in 2001.
The Digistar II was then replaced in 2012 by a Global Immersion GSX system. This system is used for both live planetarium presentations and digital movies.
For projecting movies onto the dome, the San Diego Hall of Science approached IMAX to adapt their large-screen format. There were technical problems with adapting the IMAX system for use in the center of a dome, but IMAX was willing to address them. The San Diego Hall of Science called the new system OMNIMAX, but IMAX has since renamed the system IMAX Dome. Even though the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center—which coined the original name—now uses the new name IMAX Dome, many theaters still call it OMNIMAX.
The planetarium opened in 1973 as the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center showing two features, Voyage to the Outer Planets ( a combined planetarium show and OMNIMAX film produced by Graphic Films) and the OMNIMAX film Garden Isle (by Roger Tilton Films) on a double bill. In 2012 the theater was renamed the Heikoff Dome Theater after receiving a large grant from the Irwin Jacobs family. A 4K resolution video system consisting of 4 Sony SRX 420 video projectors was installed. This system is now used to present digital presentations along with the still operating IMAX film projector. The same system is used for the planetarium presentations. At the same time in-house production of various scientific topics began using video software designed for the dome screen.
In addition to setting a new standard for planetariums, the science center was a pioneer in modern science museums. Following the example set four years earlier by the Exploratorium, all exhibits in the science center were required to have something for visitors to manipulate or otherwise participate in. The combination of a planetarium, IMAX Dome theater and interactive science exhibits is now a common thread with most major science museums.
By the late 1990s the science center had become small and outdated compared to newer science museums. In 1998 the science center was expanded and modernized to include rides such as the Virtual Zone, a motion-simulator offering virtual rides with a scientific bent. The scientific and interactive exhibits then dwarfed the planetarium/theater, so the name was changed to the current Reuben H. Fleet Science Center.
The facility has been cited as a leading example of energy efficiency and sustainability.
The theater usually features two different IMAX films, such as Flight of the Butterflies and To The Arctic. There is a separate admission charge for each film. There are also occasional one-time digital shows including both science-oriented productions and music-and-light shows.
The planetarium show is normally held one evening a month. Called "The Sky Tonight" and hosted by the Fleet's astronomer-in-residence, it focuses on the current appearance of the sky or on current topics in astronomy. It is followed by free outdoor telescope viewing courtesy of the San Diego Astronomy Association.
Permanent exhibits in the Science Center include the Tinkering Studio; Cellular Journey; Block Busters; Kid City; So Watt!; Aging for All Ages; Look! Touch! Listen!; Origins in Space; Gallery of Illusions and Perceptions; San Diego's Water from Source to Tap; and an Exploration Bar. Current temporary exhibits include Explor-O-Rama, borrowed from San Francisco's Exploratorium, and Grossology, based on the books of the same name.