Brighter Than Ever: Museum's $23M upgrades to awe and inspire - - Columbia, South Carolina

Brighter Than Ever: Museum's $23M upgrades to awe and inspire


This Saturday when the South Carolina State Museum opens its doors, it will be the only facility of its kind in the nation.

Crews recently finished a $23 million expansion project inside the museum. It's been 17 years in the making, but the museum is now brighter than ever.

At 2,500 square feet, a new observatory is opening up opportunities to view what's far away via a telescope from a long time ago.

For the first time in the United States, a vintage Alvin Clark refracting telescope will be able to be remotely accessed from every classroom in the Palmetto State, and teachers have been training to learn how to use it.

"It's going to definitely be a great feature added to my on-line courses to really be able to show students the night sky," said Denise Wright, an E-Learning teacher who teaches students across the state.

Wright is one of several teachers in South Carolina who spent days at the State Museum learning about the new technology.

Teachers and students will be able to connect to the telescope through and use social media to interact with observatory staff.

During training, teachers got an opportunity to meet someone who knows a thing or two about being in space: Charles Duke -- South Carolina's first astronaut. He surprised the teachers with signed globes for their classrooms.

Duke is one of 12 people to walk on the moon, and someone who has dreamed of seeing a facility like this in the state.

"I have been working off and on this project for almost 20 years," said Duke. "I came to the museum and had this idea for a world class facility in South Carolina. I started to come over and lobbying the legislature, corporations, and individuals. It was a struggle, and as we finally got some traction after a few years, and to now see the fruition of all that hard work that hundreds of people put into it, it's really satisfying."

The advanced technology is something that even surprises someone who has been to the moon back.

"We didn't even have a digital camera on board, it was just a regular film camera. I have an iPhone and my iPhone memory is 200,000 times the memory of our Apollo computer," said Duke.

Years after a dream was born, it's now a reality.

"It's been a long time coming," Director of Marketing Merritt McHaffie said. "17 years in the works."

The grand opening is Saturday, August 16th from 9a.m.-7p.m. The museum is giving the first 100 visitors free general admission and other free tickets for an entire year.

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