With new production, Franklin Institute offers passport ‘To Space and Back’

    For the first time in 12 years, the Franklin Institute has made a new movie for its planetarium.

    “To Space and Back” is a 28-minute, high-definition video showing how technologies developed for space exploration  — from GPS devices to motorcycle helmets — are directly influencing how people live on Earth.


    The mix of computer animation and live-action photography projects across the entire dome of a planetarium. You will have to look all around the room, even behind you, to absorb it all.

    The full-immersion experience takes spectators on a ride up to the regions of space where satellites ring the Earth, then deep inside blood arteries where tiny lasers cut through fatty deposits.

    At some points, the visuals can make a viewer (like this reporter) physically queasy, as simulated animated space flight tilts off the horizontal plane while panning laterally. This reporter got a feeling of vertigo without ever moving.

    “We’re working on many levels, and the visceral level is just one of them,” said Derrick Pitts, the Franklin Institute’s chief astronomer and producer of the presentation. “We want people to access it in whatever way works best for them. For some, it’s the content — that narrated portion. For others, it’s images. For others, it’s music. For others, it’s motion.”

    The Franklin Institute had been creating programs for its planetarium since 1934, but stopped in 2001 when the planetarium closed for renovation.

    “After we did the renovation, we came back with the capability of doing video on the dome, but weren’t really prepared to do it because of the extraordinary change in technology and methods of production,” said Pitts.

    The Franklin Institute partnered with the digital planetarium production company Sky-Skan to create “To Space and Back,” with plans to distribute internationally. So far six theaters, including planetariums in Australia and South Korea, have licensed it.

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