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Preparing for a Moon Landing at the SMC Planetarium

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica Convention and Visitors

By Jorge Casuso

March 5, 2019 -- Who are Jim McDivitt, Dave Scott and Rusty Schweickart? Though few may remember their names, the three astronauts helped pave the way for the first manned lunar landing.

The Santa Monica College (SMC) John Drescher Planetarium this month will mark the 50th anniversary of their flight aboard Apollo 9, which tested the complete spacecraft “stack” that would take man to the moon less than five months later.

Gumdrop meets Spider
Gumdrop meets Spider (images
Courtesy NASA)

“Apollo 9 – Gumdrop and Spider,” which takes place on Friday, is among the planetarium's feature shows this month that include a telescope viewing session with a focus on the Moon and the Pleiades, an explanation of solstices and equinoxes and an update on developments in Solar System exploration.

The feature shows -- preceded by the planetarium’s popular Night Sky Show -- are held on Friday evenings.

"Today, almost nobody recalls Apollo 9," event organizers said. "Yet this complex, challenging mission incorporated numerous daunting 'firsts.'

It also "yielded some of the most beautiful images of the Earth’s surface of any NASA flight up to that time."

During the 10-day mission, the astronauts performed maneuvers essential to the lunar landing, including docking the command and service module Gumdrop with the lunar module Spider.

On March 15 the planetarium will present a Special Observing Event titled “A Gibbous Moon, the Pleiades, and (maybe) a Very Red Star!”

The show provides an opportunity to "look through a variety of telescopes at a 9-day-old gibbous Moon and its Mare Imbrium, Copernicus, and Plato craters, plus wide field views of the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) star cluster," organizers said.

If weather permits, viewers can also see the pulsating red giant R Leporis (Hind’s Crimson Star). "If clouds intervene, the program will stay in the planetarium with high-resolution images," organizers said.

On March 22, “TILT! Equinoxes and Solstices Explained” will "try to remedy (the city dweller's) disconnect from the natural world by explaining "what the equinoxes and solstices actually are."

The show also dispels some myths, "like that egg-standing-on-end story," organizers said.

This month's schedule wraps up March 29 with "an update on humanity’s collective quest to understand the cosmos."

The show includes "the New Horizons encounter with mysterious Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule, the InSight Mars Lander mission, the progress of Japan’s Hayabusa 2 and the NASA OSIRIS-REx missions."

Also included is a look at "the first-ever landing on the lunar farside by China’s Chang’e 4 and the JUNO mission around Jupiter."

The show will be repeated April 5.

The feature shows and a telescope viewing session take place at 8 p.m. and are preceded at 7 p.m. by “The Night Sky Show,” which offers "the latest news in astronomy and space exploration, a family-friendly 'tour' of the constellations and answers to astronomy-related questions.

The John Drescher Planetarium, which features a Digistar projection system, is located near the elevators on the second floor of Drescher Hall, 1900 Pico Boulevard.

Tickets are available at the door and cost $11 ($9 seniors and children) for the evening’s scheduled “double bill," or $6 ($5 seniors age 60 and older and children age 12 and under) for a single show or telescope-viewing session.

For more information call (310) 434-3005 or visit All shows are subject to change or cancellation without notice.

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