24 November 2009


I went to the American Museum of Natural History and Hayden Planetarium (now folded into something called the Rose Center for Earth and Space) for the first time in decades. I was not impressed. In my view the changes that have taken place are not for the better. To begin with there are exorbitant charges for special exhibits of dubious value. We bought a pass for everything, but that was of limited use since you have to tell them the specific time you want to go in advance, even for less-than-crowded walk-through exhibits.

For me the sense of mystery and wonder is gone. That could be my age, or more likely the way things have been redone. Other things haven’t been updated so you find interesting gemstones with obsolete place names like “West Germany” and “Zaire.” There is a lot of build-up for the space show in the planetarium. You get on line, then take an elevator to a room where you wait around until the relatively brief show starts. I remember walking with awe through dark halls of star walls to get there as classical music played until you entered the room with the old projector. Then the show was about astronomy; now it is generically about everything and nothing. The digital screen over the rotunda offers great possibilities but the show, purporting to be a "Journey to the Stars" was pretty mediocre.

There’s another section that is supposed to deal with with the origin of the universe narrated by someone obviously reading a script they don’t understand. It is a large spaceship-like circle that is also digitally projected, but it only lasts a few minutes and is largely wasted. Then you stroll down a walkway with small indications and nonworking screens that are supposed to be indicative of all the eons since the origin of the universe. It is less than awesome. Incomprehensively there is nothing about astronauts and human space travel except for a few incidental photos on a hallway wall. The Rose Center is a total waste of space.

The real trouble is we’ve seen all this before done better on science, nature, and space shows on television every week. Given that, the museum ought to offer something special, but regrettably it doesn’t. It somehow manages to make the wondrous routine. If you’re planning a trip to New York City you can skip this. You won’t have missed much.

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