Planetarium named after Kalpana Chawla attracts hundreds

January 4th, 2009 - 1:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Kurukshetra (Haryana), Jan 4 (IANS) In the land of Kurukshetra, better known for its famous battle in the epic Mahabharata, there’s a new attraction for pilgrims and visitors that is emerging as a sort of 21st century pilgrimage centre.Be it students, teachers, entrepreneurs, non-resident Indians (NRIs), pilgrims coming to this holy town, VIPs and villagers, there is a new must-see for everyone - a planetarium set up by the Haryana government in the memory of Kalpana Chawla, the first woman of Indian origin to go on a space voyage.

Since it was inaugurated by Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda on July 24, 2007, the planetarium has attracted nearly 175,000 visitors - almost 350 visitors a day.

The planetarium, located on the Kurukshetra-Pehowa road, is open on all days except Monday and students, accompanied by teachers in groups, are allowed free entry.

Chawla, who was born in Karnal town, 40 km from here, and studied at the Tagore Public School there, became the first woman of Indian origin to go into space on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) re-useable spacecraft, Columbia, in 1997.

The space scientist, who did her engineering degree in aeronautical engineering from Chandigarh’s Punjab Engineering College (PEC), was chosen by NASA for her second space mission in January 2003. It was during the return journey, once again in spacecraft Columbia, that the flight disintegrated while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere Feb 1, 2003. All seven astronauts on the flight perished in the disaster.

“The planetarium is quite popular with visitors. For most of them, who otherwise mostly come here for pilgrimage, this is a new kind of an experience,” said an official of the Kurukshetra Development Board.

The planetarium has a 12-metre dome with seating for 120 people. It is equipped with state-of-the-art digital and opto-mechanical projectors that give an amazing view and show various constellations, stars and planets of the night sky.

Using these projectors, visitors can view the sky of future and past nights and can see the arrangements of stars and other cosmic objects at that time.

The main attractions of the planetarium are its shows, astro-park and science exhibits. Two shows are currently on: the 30-minute “Kalpana ka Swapan - Sitaron ki Duniya” (Kalpana’s dream - the world of stars) and “Oasis in Space”, about the solar system, its formation and characteristics of different planets.

A range of scientific exhibits measuring time, body-weight on different planets, world time and zodiac signs, zodiac quiz and seasons on earth have specially been developed to demonstrate principles of astronomy.

“The planetarium experience is amazing. I had heard and read about space and the stars, but this was the first and closest experience of that world,” student Vishesh Mathur from Ambala said.

Kurukshetra, 100 km from Chandigarh, is a pilgrimage centre, particularly for Hindus, as the famous battle of Kurukshetra was fought here, according to the Mahabharata. The place attracts millions of visitors at the Brahmsarovar - Pond of Lord Brahma, the Hindu god and creator of the world - during solar eclipses.

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