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Oh, My God ... It's Full of Stars!

Thursday, Oct. 09, 2008 12:09 AM

In the midst of Tuesday's debate, John McCain tried to portray Barack Obama as an earmark-loving, tax-and-spend liberal sort.

His example? Funding that Senator Obama sought for the renovation of the star projector at Chicago's Adler Planetarium.

"While we were working to eliminate these pork barrel earmarks he (Senator Obama) voted for nearly $1 billion in pork barrel earmark projects. Including $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?" McCain challenged.

First, it's not an overhead projector, Senator. It's a complex system of lenses that reproduces the night sky, as visible by the unaided human eye, from any location on the Earth, including the correct placement and movement of the sun, moon, and planets.

Man's fascination with the night sky finds its roots not only in questioning the world around us, but in determining the best times for planting and harvesting. The sun and stars formed the basis of navigation before we had GPS and Google Maps.

For generations, planetariums have inspired school children to explore careers in astronomy and other related sciences. To become astronauts and/or pilots. To open our eyes to the wonders of the universe around us.

And many of the older planetariums in the country are in need of renovation - Los Angeles' Griffith Observatory underwent a near-$100 million renovation in 2006, and San Francisco's Morrison Planetarium was recently rebuilt as part of the redesign of the California Academy of Sciences.

At its founding, Max Adler said, ""Chicago has been striving to create, and in large measure has succeeded in creating, facilities for its citizens of today to live a life richer and more full of meaning than was available for the citizens of yesterday. Toward the creation of such opportunities I have desired to contribute. The popular conception of the Universe is too meager; the Planets and the stars are too far removed from general knowledge. In our reflections, we dwell too little upon the concept that the world and all human endeavor within it are governed by established order and too infrequently upon the truth that under the heavens everything is inter-related, even as each of us to the other."

As a former planetarium lecturer (Morrison Planetarium, for about twelve years), I'm floored that Senator McCain shows such disdain for an educational institution like Adler, and sought to politicize a funding request without understanding what it was.

The Adler Planetarium's response to Senator McCain's remark is here. And some more information here at MSNBC's Cosmic Log.

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