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Article by Paul Engle, 1982
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Historical Aspects of the International Planetarium Society

Paul R. Engle
UALR Planetarium
Little Rock, Arkansas

Reprinted from Planetarian, Vol. 11, No. 2, Second Quarter 1982

June 1982 will mark the 10th anniversary of the publication, The Planetarian, of the International Planetarium Society. Since I was the first president of the International Society of Planetarium Educators, and appointed historian of the International Planetarium Society, I feel that it is appropriate to make some comments on what has happened in the past, the current status of our society and the direction in which we are moving into the future.

I might start by indicating that the first national meeting of Planetarium Educators occurred at Cranbrook Institute in Michigan in 1958 where a symposium was held. A second important meeting was held in 1960 at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History on planetariums and their use for education. A number of the regional associations of planetarium educators were formed in the sixties and a significant conference of American Planetarium Educators was held at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan in October of 1970, known as the CAPE meeting.

The constitutional meeting was held at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in March of 1971 and the approval of the constitution was made by several of the affiliates by July of 1971. During the period of 1971 and 1972, the seven original affiliates had joined the federation of the International Society of Planetarium Educators. Since that time, four additional affiliates have come into the Society and it is especially gratifying to see that three of these are from outside the United States.

The objectives of the organization are to disseminate state-of-the-art information through conferences, work-shops and publications and to provide a liaison between the planetarium community and other interested and important agencies and professional associations such as the American Astronomical Society. The quarterly journal, The Planetarian, started in a rather elaborate way but finally stabilized into a more affordable published work. Both the journal and the special reports have been of great value to the planetarium community and continue to afford important communications in this field.

In looking back on the history of the Society, one of the most important steps was its incorporation and another was the stabilization of its journal. In my opinion, the biennial meetings have all been successful and have been of great value to the planetarium profession. There were times in the past when I felt the Society would not survive, especially when the first attempt was made to incorporate the Society in Texas and when financial problems arose concerning the publishing of the journal.

These problems are behind us now and I feel that the organization is on a stable footing and will continue to be in the foreseeable future. The Society has been very successful in drawing together extremely talented people from many walks of life and establishing professional standards that are import-ant guidelines to the performance of all of us in our work. The Society has also strengthened the prestige of the planetarium community in the eyes of professional astronomers and the American Astronomical Society.

There was a time when professional astronomers did not have a very high opinion of planetariums or their personnel and I think through the IPS that this has changed. Another element has been the successful collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Planetariums are in such an ideal position for the promotion of space activities that NASA has been able to work with the planetarium community and help in many different ways.

Since many planetariums do not have the resources to produce all their own shows, the Society and the affiliates have been in a good position to make it possible for the smaller planetariums to obtain professionally produced shows through agencies such as NASA as well as through the large planetariums. The quality of the presentations has improved greatly over the years and is probably one reason for the increased popularity of planetariums throughout the country. Also, the technological developments which have been stimulated by the Society and its affiliates have been very meaningful in improving the quality and both the educational and entertainment value of the presentations.

The planetarium still remains the best interface be-tween the astronomical research community and the general public. We are in a unique position to continue to take advantage of this situation and maintain a good balance between education in astronomy and entertainment in our product. We should be flexible in being able to stress important astronomical events, stimulate the public interest and understanding in these happenings, and guard against becoming stale.

The journal can certainly help us with new ideas and technological improvements that can be used to our advantage, such as video, mini computers and computer graphics. Each meeting of the Society should be the best yet. Through the meetings, all of us obtain new inspiration, new ideas and benefits. Planetarians should strive to become more professional, improve standards, and not let the Society or the affiliates decline. The International Planetarium Society has survived and become quite stable in the first 10 years and I feel confident that if we maintain our vitality and enthusiasm, the next decade can be even brighter. 

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