By: Chancey Boyce
Astronomy professor and director of Adrian College’s Robinson Planetarium Mark Fairclough is enthusiastic about astronomy. Spending an afternoon with him, you might hear him passionately tell you about constellations, lunar eclipses and the astronomical Celtic origins of Halloween.
Recently, though, Fairclough is most excited about the launch of rockets from NASA’s Artemis program to the moon, which is slated to be tested without a crew on Nov. 26 and go fully operational next year. According to Fairclough, the Artemis program will be the precursor to NASA and other space agencies sending a colony of about 200 people to live in space.
Fairclough and Adrian College are privy to all of this knowledge thanks to a partnership Adrian holds with NASA called the Museum Alliance, which allows NASA to share videos, technology, and other information regarding the latest projects being worked on in space with educational institutions throughout the country.
According to the official NASA website, “Since 2002, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s informal education group has run NASA’s Museum Alliance, providing museums and other educational institutions with access to NASA staff, resources and professional development.”
Adrian College first participated in the Museum Alliance program in 2014 during the launch of Exploration Flight Test 1 as members of the rocket’s crew directly communicated with Adrian College. According to Fairclough, the same thing will happen when Artemis launches.
The Coronavirus pandemic set back Adrian’s activities in the field of astronomy, especially when Adrian’s Robinson Planetarium in Peelle Hall was restricted to eight persons being inside at a time. The planetarium normally can hold an average attendance of 56.
The planetarium features a Spitz A-3 P star projector that can beam videos and visuals of stars on a 30-foot domed ceiling that realistically mimics the night sky.
The planetarium’s activities, which include regular weekly shows every Friday at 7:00 PM, were suspended in March of 2020, and have just begun to resume again last month.
Beyond bringing the planetarium back to operational status, Fairclough has also been working on renovating Adrian’s observatory, which sits perched atop Peelle Hall. In the past few months, the interior of the observatory was repainted, and the birds which had taken roost in the observatory during the pandemic were chased out.
“I think the planetarium and observatory are a big draw to Adrian,” Fairclough said. “I remember years ago there was a little girl who approached me during a presentation at the planetarium and nervously told me, ‘I want to be an astronomer.’ Years later, she came here to study space.”