'No one can turn off my starry sky': Moscow Planetarium's stories

October 10, 2019

This year, Moscow Planetarium is celebrating its 90th anniversary. Built in 1929, almost destroyed in the 1990s, it has still been reconstructed. Now up to 3,500 visitors watch its dome screen every day.

People come here to look at stars they cannot see in the night sky of Moscow, and learn more about the structure of the Universe and the Solar system, its planets and comets, black holes and asteroids — everything that goes beyond the Earth's atmosphere. While in books you can see stars only in the pictures, the Planetarium helps you get closer to them.

Employees and visitors told mos.ru about what was the Planetarium like in Soviet times, how it works now and why space has become a part of their lives.

'I've been working here for 40 years, and I've never been bored'  

Faina Rublyova, Scientific Director, Moscow Planetarium:

'I came to work at the Planetarium exactly 40 years ago, in 1979. My first job was a tour guide at the astronomical site. This is the most unusual space of the Planetarium, an open-air Museum with a variety of tools, devices, mockups and models. Visitors have always been interested by our sundial. They checked it by their watch to make sure it really showed the right time. The telescope had always made a great impression, too. Astronomy is impossible without observations. For this purpose, we had a small but very good professional astronomical observatory.

After a while, I got the position of Senior Resource Specialist, and later a lecturer. Lecturer at the Moscow Planetarium is probably the most honourable title, a position that gave the opportunity to communicate with visitors, deliver lectures, talk about the starry sky. And not only in the Planetarium, as we also visited schools, libraries, culture centres, Pioneers Palaces to give our lectures, always accompanied by the visuals. First it was heavy glass slides, replaced later by lighter film ones.

In 1994, the Planetarium was closed for overhaul to last for 17 years. It kept its head above water for some time thanks to the fantastic theatre, astronomical clubs, and Scientist's Tribune lectures. Over the years, a lot of new projects have been conceived here. The Planetarium has always been in the thick of action to promote astronomy and natural science. Cosmonauts often visited us, we were engaged in the development of rocket technology and the space industry.

In 2011, the Planetarium opened after reconstruction. Now we have everything we have dreamed of, for our visitors to discover something new every time. Functional areas have increased five-fold. We have now a two-level classical Urania Museum, an interactive Lunarium Museum, with Sky Park astronomical site and two observatories having resumed their work. But the best thing is surely the equipment in the Grand Star Hall, whose composition and configuration rank among the TOP5 in the world.

I've been working here for 40 years, but I've never been bored. Even when the Planetarium was closed, we carried out astronomical observations on the destroyed site. So, in 1996-1997, we were lucky to observe two comets, very clearly visible in our latitudes. We gave lectures at schools and brought children to our observatory. We were always willing to share, to show the sky, to tell about insightful events and astronomical phenomena.

Starry sky is a source of inspiration, it always prompts me new ideas and plans. Having mastered cutting-edge technology, we create new programs. For the Planetarium's anniversary, we are working on a new full-dome film. There are many other projects expecting us! 90 years in the Universe is a mere blink, which means that everything is still ahead, it's just the beginning!’

'How can you not look at the sky?’

Tatiana Lakeyeva, a former resource specialist of the Moscow Planetarium:

'I've been working at the Planetarium for almost 25 years. In 1975, I came there as a student. I studied, welcomed visitors. Later, me and my colleagues got engaged in resource searching work at the Department of Assistance to Local Planetariums. We supplied all planetariums of the Soviet Union with scientific literature: we prepared it, printed it through publishing houses, and sent it out. We also held seminars for representatives of planetariums, lecturers or directors. Our scientists told them about science news, spoke about stars, planets, new discoveries.

Cosmonauts came to us to study, to make us stare at them with our mouths open. Before they could fly, they had to know where, what part of the sky they had to fly. Later, I befriended many of them. When Zvyozdny Gorodok opened its own planetarium, they invited me to visit it.

The former Director Konstantin Portsevsky used to say: 'How can you not look at the sky? Are you looking at your feet?' Wherever I go, I find all the constellations I remember and know about. This is my life.

I'm retired now. I look at the sky, but no one can turn it on or off for me. However, I can see sunrises and sunsets, full moon, the beginning and the end of a moon cycle, the same as when we came to work and started our machine.

'You're just a little ant in this huge Universe' 

Maria Kozhevnikova, actress:

My son got interested in planets when he was two. Later, he told me about things I, a 30-year-old adult, didn't even know. About Haumea, Makemake, planets beyond the curriculum. He began to ask for more information. Naturally, we went to the Moscow Planetarium.

I think I can already work there, because I know the whole program, I watched it... I can't even say how many times. We come there as to our home: everyone greets us, employees know us very well. My two-year-old son loved the 'Mice and the Moon' film, where mice talk about lunar craters and waterless seas. With my older children we go to the big domed hall. Our favourite program is a 'Journey Through the Solar System', which tells about all the planets.

It's something really amazing. I have never been interested in anything about space, and would not have been if not for my son. But the Planetarium programs are like a very good film in which you immerse yourself in the characters and forget about all your problems. You find yourself in a completely different world, the world of planets, and you realise that you are just a grain of sand, kind of a small ant in this huge Universe, and all your greatest experiences and feelings are just nothing compared to what is going on in the sky. You feel elevated and free when you leave the Planetarium.

'Moscow never saw such a grand level before' 

Natalya Shilova, a visitor:

'I visited Planetarium right after its reconstruction and was greatly impressed. I'm a big fan of museums and often visit them. But I haven't seen museums comparable with the Planetarium in the terms of content. The most impressive is certainly the Grand Star Hall. You just can't tear your eyes off its projections!

Children are told about space and the stars in plain language. You can touch everything, carry out experiments. My daughter collects crafts she makes at the Fascinating Science Theatre, and asks me to go there again and again. Children wear stargazer cloaks there, and they are told about everything they need to know about the world at their age. Now my child tells me about the water cycle, for example. She knows how ice melts, how water evaporates and returns to the lake as rain.

There are black and white photos of the old Planetarium on the ground floor. They greatly convey the atmosphere of the time, the atmosphere of innovation. And you feel that Vladimir Mayakovsky wrote poems about it for a reason. (The poet loved the Moscow Planetarium, was a frequent visitor and dedicated it his poem 'Proletarians, men and women, go to the Planetarium'.)

'I wanted to become a scientist, but eventually I became a musician'  

Andrei Klimkovsky, composer, graduate of astronomical courses:

'The fondest memories in my life are associated with the Moscow Planetarium. I took an astronomy course in 1980, almost 40 years ago. Then it was a very serious school, an educational institution that gave knowledge at the level of preparatory courses to enter the Institute. Since I wanted to become an astronomer, I studied there for many years and found many friends for life.

The courses brought together some 500 people. This was a very large crowd, and all had their own world views. We upgraded and complemented each other, communicated, organised night observations. Once we went on an expedition to the Crimea to observe the Orionid meteor shower. It was a great experience: you could count 600-800 shooting stars during the night.

All of us were astronomy fans, also fond of travelling, photography and music. I had a rather dramatic transformation at the Planetarium: I had always wanted to be a scientist, but eventually I became a musician. Communication with my friends made a romantic view of life even more attractive for me. I devoted my life to music about stars and distant worlds.

I had a chance to work at the Planetarium after the reconstruction. I was one of the few people who carried a link with the old Planetarium to the new one. I felt its atmosphere, I knew its exhibits and traditions very well. I gave concerts at the Planetarium, and it still plays my music. Life is changing, though, and the Planetarium is involved in these changes, too. It is now 6.5 m taller, has new museums, with the old ones extended. The Urania Museum used to be an ordinary lobby with globes, and now it occupies two floors. The Planetarium retained its spirit and atmosphere of the 1980s, while having something new, hugely exceeding what it was before with its importance and grandeur. However, it is still the good old star house in Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya Street, one of the most enjoyable places in Moscow.

Source: mos.ru

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