- Associated Press - Friday, July 22, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Imagine competing with a friend as you battle meteor showers or massive asteroids traveling through deep space hurtling toward Earth. Consider what it would be like to consume light or other space matter by controlling a black hole with your own hands.

Those are just two of the new interactive exhibits under development at the area’s foremost purveyor of science knowledge and space information, reported the Deseret News (https://bit.ly/29zEkbg).

The Clark Planetarium is among the first institutions of its kind to create and develop its own interactive exhibits that are modeled after the video gaming experience.

“As part of our exhibit overhaul, we’re restoring all the (displays),” said Ron Proctor, creative department manager for the planetarium.

He said part of the reason for the self-directed redevelopment was to save money. Initially, the planetarium had asked a contractor about developing the new exhibits, but the cost was high, he said.

“So we said we could make some of these things ourselves,” Proctor said. “We have people in-house with the talent, and it could save us tens of thousands of dollars if they can make it themselves.”

The first model exhibit was created in one weekend, according to Cody Lavery, Clark Planetarium modeler/animator.

“The benefit of us making it is that we can sell it to other planetariums and museums, while if we contracted with (an outside source), then they would get the (intellectual property rights),” he said.

About a dozen exhibits have been created so far, including a moon landing display, a gravity display and the asteroid exhibit, among others.

“When we first started making (the asteroid display), you would fire one missile and it would blow up an asteroid. Then someone said, ‘What instead of instantly blowing up, the trajectory was (deflected),’ which was more realistic.”

Lavery is happy to use his educational training as a gaming developer to provide such a user-friendly experience for the planetarium’s patrons.

“I am so excited to see us selling these to other museums and other planetariums,” he said. Additionally, he believes they could one day expand to video gaming consoles and mobile device apps, all of which could be financially beneficial for the planetarium.

“We could adjust the moon landing game to landing on Mars. People would really enjoy that,” Lavery said. “We could make Clark Planetarium games a big brand.”

The estimated expense of the total revamp is about $4 million, Clark Planetarium associate director Lindsie Smith, said. The savings from developing new exhibits in-house is about $80,000.

With the official grand re-opening is slated for October 21, beta testing of the new displays is underway.

“The experience will be much more hands-on,” she said. “We’re moving away from static artifacts and reading a lot of text to interaction - using your hands and your body. (It’s) having a more shared experience where more than one person at a time can interact.”

Upon completion, the upgraded planetarium will provide visitors with a look toward the future in the world of space exploration, Smith said.

“We’re looking at what is coming next,” she said. “(Like) the rockets that will take us to Mars and where else we can explore beyond our solar system.”

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Information from: Deseret News, https://www.deseretnews.com


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