Originally created 02/20/00

Thousands crowd new NYC planetarium for a look at the cosmos



NEW YORK -- Thousands of people flocked Saturday to the opening of The Museum of Natural History's new $210 million planetarium complex, praised for its daring architecture and use of technology to portray a realistic picture of the cosmos.

"Very impressive, very well-done, my kids love it," Madelyn English, of Bernardsville, N.J., said of the Rose Center for Earth and Space.

Eleven-year-old Michael Naumowicz of Maspeth gave the facility a thumbs up as well: "It's so exciting."

The Rose Center's permanent exhibits, detailing the size, scope and growth of the universe as well as the earth's place within it, were unveiled Saturday inside the new structure of steel and glass. The seven-story orb appears to hover next to the museum, and at night it is illuminated by a soft blue light.

The center replaces the old Hayden Planetarium, a New York City landmark that introduced millions of city kids to the night sky between 1935 and 1997.

"It's wonderful to see it done, but the best feeling comes from seeing all these people here -- that was what all the work was for," said James A. Schmidt, executive director of the project.

An open-air garden terrace, a gift shop and galleries for temporary exhibits are under construction. But the permanent exhibit space -- three years in the making -- is complete, with the planetarium as its highlight.

The theater's first offering is a space show that combines Hollywood glitz with astrophysics. As the lights go down in the 429-seat theater, actor Tom Hanks takes the helm of a virtual spacecraft that leaves Earth, flies past Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and hurtles through the Milky Way to the limits of the observable universe.

"I've been waiting to come here for a year and a half," said Marc Lesnick of New York. "When I saw the designs, my jaw absolutely dropped."