Nimoy Helps Rededicate Griffith Observatory

Leonard Nimoy and his wife, Susan Bay-Nimoy, participated in rededication activities held this week for the newly renovated and expanded Griffith Observatory, which re-opened to the public on Friday.

The Griffith Observatory — the iconic domed landmark overlooking Los Angeles which contains a planetarium, public telescopes and a science museum — was featured in the 1996 Voyager episode "Future's End," as well as hundreds of other TV shows and movies. Originally dedicated in 1935, the observatory closed its doors in January 2002 for a massive refurbishment that ended up taking nearly five years and costing $93 million. The expansion — all constructed underground in order to preserve the outer profile of the building — includes the "Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater," a 200-seat multimedia venue for lectures, films, live NASA feeds and other educational activities.

Nimoy earned the honor of having his name affixed to the new theater because of a $1 million donation — one of the largest by an individual — to the reconstruction effort, which he credits his wife for. "This was Susan's idea," he told STARTREK.COM. "She saw an article in the L.A. Times five years ago about the fact this place was being renovated and expanded, and immediately said, 'This is right for you.' And she was right! We've been waiting five years and we're very excited about it."

The Nimoys spoke to the press during a "blue carpet" event at the "Re-Opening Galactic Gala" held Sunday at the observatory (the carpet was blue instead of red to keep with the astronomical theme). Nimoy added, "The very first job I did as an actor in Los Angeles was in a series called Zombies in the Stratosphere. I've been in space ever since!"

A wide array of celebrities attended the Sunday function, including Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and "Future's End" villain Ed Begley Jr.

"This is hallowed ground for me," said Begley. "I love astronomy, and this is a great place to come. I think people's knowledge of science is key to solving any problem." The environmental activist mentioned that he drove his solar-powered electric car to the event. In Voyager Begley played "Henry Starling," the computer magnate who funded Rain Robinson's SETI lab which was presumably housed at Griffith. (Even now, we don't know where in the building such a lab would be!)

Also in attendance at the VIP party was Andre Bormanis, staff writer for Star Trek: Enterprise and science consultant on Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Bormanis — in collaboration with observatory director Dr. Ed Krupp and astronomical artist Don Dixon — wrote the inaugural show of the renovated Samuel Oschin Planetarium, titled "Centered in the Universe." It is a digitally animated "all-dome" laser-projected presentation (only a portion of which utilizes the new Zeiss star projector) employing dramatic imagery and sound effects, with a live narrator, to describe the evolution of mankind's understanding of the heavens. It is arguably the most sophisticated planetarium show ever produced.

Other celebs and VIPs who graced the blue carpet atop Mount Hollywood Sunday evening included such names as Lucy Lawless, Art Linkletter, Shirley Jones & Marty Ingels, Angela Bassett & Courtney B. Vance, Marilu Henner, Meredith Baxter, Olympic skater Sasha Cohen, athlete Carl Lewis, and many more, along with L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other city luminaries.

Thursday afternoon a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held that was much less about celebrity and more about civic pride. The Nimoys were on the dais along with other major donors, plus observatory officials such as Dr. Krupp, and local, state and national politicians such as Congressman Adam Schiff. A giant red ribbon was hung along the entire front of the observatory building, and hundreds of guests gathered on the front lawn. Mayor Villaraigosa presided over the ceremony, which commenced with a presentation of colors by the Hollywood High School ROTC color guard, and the national anthem played by the Hollywood High marching band, with the Pledge of Allegiance led by local fifth-graders.

"You are all going boldly where no public observatory has gone before," Krupp began in his opening remarks. He mentioned the facility's Hollywood connections but emphasized, "At Griffith Observatory, the stars are the stars. And the universe is the most theatric, dramatic spectacle there is."

Dr. Krupp further spoke about the observatory's "lofty purpose" and how it can help change the world: "Astronomy prompts the big questions. The big questions invite wonder. Wonder drives the quest for understanding. The quest for understanding invests value in accurate portrayals of nature. Accurate portrayals of nature enhance survival. Astronomy, in that sense, helps underwrite our future."

Mayor Villaraigosa recognized all the individual and institutional donors — including the U.S. Air Force and NASA — represented on the dais, and particularly thanked the Nimoys "for their generosity and tireless efforts in support of fundraising."

City councilmember Tom LaBonge noted the coincidence that the price tag for the renovation — $93 million — is the same number of miles that the Earth is from the Sun. And it was a child attending a lecture who originally pointed that out.

Nimoy did not do any speaking himself, but Congressman Schiff, representing the federal government, gave him a special shout-out: "I have to say, it's a particular thrill for me to just be here in the presence of Leonard Nimoy. Isn't that kind of a treat? Although I have to confess, I watched Star Trek when it first came on the air, when I was a small child ... okay, I wasn't that small ... but I have to say I wasn't sure about that Spock character. He was a little scary, his ears were a little too pointed — it took me a couple of seasons to figure out he was a good guy. But in real life he's an even better guy. And we are so thrilled that you're here and have been such a part in making this a success."

Schiff had already seen the planetarium program, and though he didn't mention Bormanis by name, he remarked, "It is the best show in all of L.A., all of Southern California. I don't care who won the Academy Awards, that's an Academy Award-winning show. It is motion picture, it is planetarium, it is star show — it's unbelievable! You have got to see it."

On a more pragmatic note, Schiff commented, "We're not growing many scientists in this country anymore ... and we have to change that. And I think there's nothing that opens the eyes of a child to science and all the wonders of science like space. I really hope that some child walking through those doors behind me, through those magnificent doors, will have their eyes opened to all the wonders of the universe out there and will go on to do great things ... We need to inspire these young people, and this is the way to do it."

After all the various speeches, the mayor led the dais contingent to the front steps, allowing photographers and cameramen to cluster tightly before them and the rest of the crowd to bunch up behind them, and Villaraigosa, LaBonge and Krupp proceeded to slice the giant ribbon. As they did, pink streamers burst out upon the gathering from the roof. And then it was time for everyone to see what was inside.

Aside from the Bormanis planetarium show, the other inaugural program is a film starring Nimoy playing in his own theater, titled "The Once and Future Griffith Observatory." The 27-minute documentary was produced by NASA and a support group called Friends Of The Observatory (FOTO). In it Nimoy recounts the history of the observatory, from its founding by Colonel Griffith J. Griffith to the recent renovation — describing in fascinating detail such efforts as lifting the original structure on hydraulic jacks in order to excavate underneath — and gives away some of its secrets.

A new Education Curator has been hired to program activities in the Nimoy Theater, and that person has a unique Star Trek connection of her own. Dr. Laura Danly, a prominent astronomer formerly with the University of Denver and a friend of Bormanis, was identified in the Enterprise episode "Fusion" as the author of Jonathan Archer's childhood astronomy primer, "The Cosmos A to Z" (in reality she has co-written a book called "Chaos to Cosmos: A Space Odyssey"), and now she's in charge of the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater. Small universe, isn't it?

The observatory officially opened for business on Friday, Nov. 3, and both those inaugural programs should run for several weeks, if not months. As previously reported, interest in the new facility is expected to be overwhelming, so a timed-entry reservation system has been implemented to avoid gridlock. Reservations can be obtained at www.GriffithObservatory.org. Also, private cars will not be allowed to the top of the hill as in the past. Visitors must park in certain designated areas (near the Greek Theatre, at the Hollywood & Highland complex, or near the Zoo), and shuttle rides are available at a cost of $8 for adults, $4 for children and seniors. Hikers and cyclists can visit the observatory for free, but still need reservations.

The reservation system and shuttle service is a temporary measure until demand subsides, but that will likely be several months.

Attendance specifically to the planetarium show requires a separate ticket that can only be purchased on-site, at a cost of $7 for adults and less for children and seniors. Programming at the Nimoy Theater and all other exhibits is free of charge (but there is a new gift shop and café, so don't be short on cash!).

More information about the observatory can be found at the official site listed below, along with an L.A. Times special section that includes virtual tours, podcasts, videos and more.


Source: http://www.startrek.com/startrek/view/news/article/32575.html (Article no longer online)