The Eagle has landed

SMSU planetarium puts moon landing in focus

Photo by Sabrina Pankratz NASA data generated moon that Ken Murphy, a physics professor and planetarium director at SMSU used for the live simulations of the Apollo 8, Apollo 11, and Apollo 17 missions.

MARSHALL — It was Angela Prokosch and Alex Dequaine’s first visit to Southwest Minnesota State University’s planetarium. They were there for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first landing on the moon.

Ken Murphy, a physics professor Planetarium director at SMSU, presented “The Eagle has Landed” to commemorate the moon landing and to teach the Marshall community about the event.

“This is the first time we’ve been to the planetarium and it surpassed my expectations,” said Prokosch, who is a Marshall resident.

“I liked the detail on the moon, and I thought it was very educational. The instructor was fantastic and very knowledgeable,” said Dequaine of Marshall.

Murphy showed the audience three different missions — Apollo 8, which orbited the moon 10 times, Apollo 11, the famous moon landing, and Apollo 17, a scientific mission that landed on the moon and did exploration. “The Eagle has Landed” showcased fulldome animations, and took the audience on a visit to the moon. Murphy was able to program the show to bring the audience to the moon landing spot and explore the moon terrain.

“I’ve never done a show like this. This is a big anniversary year for Apollo and a good time to reflect on the monumental technological and human accomplishments of 50 years ago,” Murphy said. “With our state of the art technologies I’m able to pilot a virtual command module to the moon retracing the astronauts’ journey.”

Others such as Emmi Jerabek of Marshall said she went to the show to expand her knowledge on the subject.

“I loved how intimate it was. I felt like you were really experiencing it (the landing) yourself,” Jerabek said.

“I’ve been working on this show for three months. This show has several parts and involves live simulations of the Earth and Moon. I’ve managed to obtain the coordinates of the space craft so we can follow the near exact path they took,” Murphy said.

Murphy has been doing shows for the planetarium for 18 years, and enjoys being able to share knowledge about the space program with the public.

“Whenever there’s an astronomical event going on in the sky or a big accomplishment in the space program, I like to feature it to the public. I find the general public is hungry for this kind of knowledge. I enjoy taking these events and telling the story behind them as well as using the incredible technological tools of the planetarium.”

Murphy also featured a lazer light show about Apollo 11 at the end of each show as a treat for the audience. Murphy said that the university is very lucky, because of Apollo 11. The building that the planetarium is in was built around the time the Apollo missions were going on and planetariums were being built across the country.

“We are fortunate to have a planetarium in our community. Most universities don’t have one. Due to the long term support of the university and the public who is willing to purchase tickets, we’ve been able to continuously upgrade our facility into one of the region’s most advanced and technologically rich facilities,” Murphy said.

Murphy said the planetarium has featured many other shows to enhance the knowledge of the public about space, such as information about solar eclipses, and shows for elementary to high school students.

“Leading up to the solar eclipse of August 2017 the planetarium featured several shows dedicated to teaching the public how to prepare for viewing it safely. We sold several thousand eclipse viewing safety glasses. The income generated from this event, along with a matching grant, allowed for a major upgrade to take place. The planetarium also hosts 6,000 K-12 students each year that take field trips to visit our planetarium. K-12 science teachers use their visit to enhance their curriculum,” Murphy said.