Kickstart a Portable Planetarium

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If you went to Phoenix Comicon, you might already be familiar with Lauren Ard— or, as she hopes to be known around town, the planetarium lady.

Ard is a former middle school science teacher who wanted to bring the night sky into her classroom. Field trips were too expensive for the school and the students, so she started looking into other options. She came across portable planetariums— inflatable domes with the night sky projected on the celling. Renting a planetarium runs about $1,000 a day, and there weren't any in Tucson. So, Ard sewed together a portable planetarium for herself.

"It’s kind of like putting together half of a giant beach ball."

That was five years ago. Now, she is doing a Kickstarter campaign to fund a larger, more durable planetarium.

The campaign his currently sitting around $5,000, $500 over the initial goal. She had been a anxious about making her goal when a woman from Texas started asking about the $1,000 pledge level, the reward for which is having Ard make and ship an extra planetarium.

“I had no idea that she would actually go forward and stick a thousand dollars in there,” Ard said. “Suddenly I had it.”

Ard has all of the bonus money she has already raised bookmarked for making the planetarium out of higher quality materials, which will make it last longer. But, if donations keep coming, she has bigger plans.

"Right now, I've been using a toy projector from Japan. It works... but it's not meant for professional projection."

She read about an alternative. It involves a curved security mirror— think something you would see high up on a wall to look around corners— and a computer projector. The trick is, it can't just be a mirror she picks up at Target. For quality projection, the mirror has to be on the outside, not covered by glass like most mirrors. Getting the right mirror and projector would cost her about $2,000.

Ard has already done a few presentations at local schools, but she is hoping to expand her impact.

"I want to do presentations that are customized to each grade level," Ard said, adding that her planetarium presentations can help students with more than just astronomy knowledge. "I want to work in state standards for science, English, social studies."

She's big on customized presentations. For Phoenix Comicon she did themed presentations, talking about pop culture references to astronomy including Harry Potter, Dr. Who and Marvel Comics.

You can see her Harry Potter presentation at the "Magic Mania" event at the Martha Cooper Branch Library, 1377 N Catalina Ave, on Saturday, June 15 from 6-8 p.m.

"I want to become part of the community. I want people to say 'oh, the planetarium lady is going to be there.' I want to be an educational staple."

There are 11 days left in her Kickstarter campaign, so head over soon if you want to give the planetarium lady some love.

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