Monday, October 25, 2010

Torvald Hessel Discusses The Austin Planetarium's Past, Present, & Future

(Note:  With just a few days until InnoTech, our publicist Matt Scherer is hard at work generating “buzz” for our Oct. 28 event.  Here’s a recent online interview with Torvald Hessel, the executive director of the Friends of the Austin Planetarium.  As part of InnoTech, the planetarium will showcase their mobile facility.)

Q1:  What inspired you to begin the process to build a planetarium?
I used to work in a planetarium in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I worked there for several years while earning my graduate degree in Astrophysics from the University of Amsterdam. I emigrated to the US in 1999 and ended up in Austin a year later. Then in 2003 I realized that Austin does not have a planetarium. I missed my old job dearly, so I “simply” decided to build a planetarium for Austin. I mean, how difficult can it be, right?

 Q2:  As the husband of a retired physics teacher who taught astronomy, I know that "hands on" interaction with the stars helps students show more interest in science.  What role does your planetarium have in help promote science education?
A: Although our role is limited (because we still do not have a planetarium and science museum), it is certainly growing. The new mobile planetarium is a state of the art inflatable planetarium which we bring out to as many schools as we can. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and I hope that we will have to purchase a second dome in about a year’s time because we will have reached capacity. It is exceedingly gratifying to see our progress there, even without having finished the real thing yet.

Q3:  Right now, you'll have the mobile planetarium at InnoTech.  When can we expect to see a full planetarium where school tours can visit your facility?
If everything goes according to schedule, we hope to be able to open doors in late 2014. However, there are still many crucial pieces to cover before we can do this. Right now the most important thing is the site selection. We are looking to build right across the street from the Bob Bullock State History museum and the Blanton Museum of Art. We are working with the state on a long term lease, and we hope to have something concrete by the next legislative session.

Check out the Planetarium at InnoTech Austin this Thursday, October 28th. To register, visit

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