The Sun Dome project making progress at Lacey Complex

Alex DeJong/The HeraldMusco President Joe Crookham leads a public presentation about the sun dome solar system walkabout project, sharing a map and a mock-up of the display.

OSKALOOSA— “Enjoy! Protect! The Planet Earth – it's the only ride we've got.”

On Tuesday, July 9, Musco President Joe Crookham and Musco Technology Manager Tony Rivera talked about the sun dome project happening out at the Lacey Complex.

Crookham said this is a project he has been thinking about for a long time.

"My passion for this began when I was a child and went with my cousin to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, where they had a solar system layout. I have always thought it would be neat to build one of those things and so we're finally getting around to getting something done on that,” he said. “For years I have had a passion for understanding and recognizing how the solar system all works together and I think it would be well for all people on planet earth to better understand what it's all about.”

The process of this project started around 15 to 20 years ago. Crookham said it has been a long process.

The dome has been constructed is a replica of the sun and is in the process of getting painted. It will be painted the color of the sun. The goal of the project is a solar system walkabout.

The solar system is being built with three concepts in mind. One is size. Around the Sun dome, there will be nine planets, and they will be in the same size relevant to the sun. For example, the sun dome is 86 feet across. The planet earth will be about 9 inches in diameter compared to the 86 foot diameter sun dome. Jupiter will be around 7 and a half feet in diameter. The largest thing that will be out there besides the sun, is actually the rings around Saturn, and those rings will 17 feet in diameter and Saturn itself will be about 6 feet.

The second concept is distance. Just south of the parking lot, the Sun will be a little over 100 feet from the edge of the parking lot. In that first 100 feet, will be Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. The rest of the planets will be spread out across Lacey.

The third concept is something to happen over a period of time and figure out what they want to do with it. Along the pathway, they want to display things that mankind has created. They will have things there depicting different evolutions of man.

Crookham said right now he's got three things in mind.

"The first thing would be a Mercury 7 capsule, since that's pretty recent in our lives," he said. "The goal will be to build a model exactly the size of the Mercury 7 capsule so people would actually be able to get into it and sit in the seat that John Glenn was in and have some idea of what he was dealing with.”

The second Item would be something like an old stagecoach so people could get into that and see what it was like to get into something to ride a long way across the country. They are very small and crowded and people had to put up with things like that.

The third thing would be to build a replica of the Mayflower. It would be a little over 100 feet from point to point.

“I think having things out there so we can have a sense of time and what mankind has gone through to get through that will be interesting,” Crookham said.

Another idea Crookham and Rivera plan to do is to put a telescope out by the dome along the path and put a camera on it and pipe the video into the various displays.

Crookham said, “The challenges with the time frame and so forth is to try to figure out how did we get to where we are now? The biggest challenge is to create a continuous learning experience and that's not just for this solar system walkabout. It's for all of us because the world we're living in is changing rapidly.”

Crookham hopes this will be a learning experience for all.

“One of the things that I hope we can do with this is to cause people to contentiously learn and better understand the things that are going on," he said, "and develop the application for why we need to protect things.”

Because of that, one of the programs they are going to set up with this is for school students. Elementary, middle school, high school and Willam Penn students can put forth ideas and each year have awards given for the best new idea about new things that can be placed and new understandings that can be created for people.

“The hope would be that first of all, it'll get students interested in thinking about it because there are prizes," Crookham said, "and secondly, it’ll cause the public to better understand the system as these new ideas get explained and expressed each year.”

There were some questions that got brought up during the presentation.

One question was, “are you going to have anything with today's technology of how long it would take to get to here to here to here if someone was a space traveler?”

The answer is yes just not sure what it is going to be exactly.

Another question was, “at the sites of the different planets set up in the distance or at the sites around the dome, what sort of information might there be regarding those planets, will there be separate informational setups?”

Crookham said yes, there will be.

“One of the things we are going to do is put a fiberoptic system all the way out there and at each planet site we will have a video board so that we can continuously have information,” he said. “Obviously one other goal would be to create a method by which people could ask questions and put down thoughts about it so it's interactive as we go through that.”

Has there been much thought about the interior of the dome? A development that might take place in there?

“The original intent was that we would put the scale size model of the planets inside the dome but once we started looking at trying to do that it became impractical for several reasons. If you're going to have an interior of the building and you invite the public in you end up with sprinkler systems, a number of doorways you have to have, and all of that so we're going to have to use it in a different way,” he said. “I'd like to find a way to utilize that but right now getting this system built is enough to keep us occupied. My hope is we get this completed by the end of this summer.”

Will the dome be lit?

“Yes," Crookham said. "In fact, if you just go to the west of it you will see there have already been some trees cut down. My goal would be to have the dome at night be lit up so when you're coming down [Hwy.] 163 you'll see it.”

Crookham is hoping to get people in the community to think about it and understand it.

Enjoy, protect the planet earth. It's the only ride we've got.