Parke Kunkle and the Minnesota Planetarium Society take a Tekne

On Nov. 3, 2010 the Minnesota High Tech Association awarded one of its 11th annual Tekne awards to the Minnesota Planetarium Society (MNPS) for their work with the “ExploraDome.”

One of the founding members of the MNPS, and current member of the board, is MCTC astronomy instructor Parke Kunkle.

“It is very rewarding to see, on a personal level,” Kunkle said, “but it is also rewarding for all of the volunteers, and the people that have worked on this. It is validation that the vision was correct.”

The MPNS was founded in 2002, shortly after the tearing down of the old Minneapolis library and planetarium.

The organization’s main goals consist of getting a new Planetarium built in Minneapolis, enriching primary and secondary science education, and continuing and maintaining a statewide network of the new “Uniview” technology.

“NASA not only looks in on the Earth, they also look out from the Earth,” Kunkle said, “they have reams of data that only scientists get to look at.”

The Uniview technology that Mr. Kunkle, and the MNPS, are so enthusiastic about brings Nasa’s “reams of data” to the big screen, in full color and three dimensions.

“With this technology,” Kunkle said, “we not only can show you constellations and where they are, we can take you into, and out of, galaxies.”

This is the technology that the MNPS has plans to install, as their website describes, into a “State of the art Planetarium and Space Discovery Center,” atop the existing Minneapolis Library.

However, funding came slower than anticipated due to the current “economic recession”.

But that did not stop this tenacious group of professors, scientists, business professionals, and enthusiastic star-gazers. They decided to take the show on the road.

Enter the ExploraDome: a 13 foot high inflatable dome that seats 25-30 students plus 1-3 “adults,” utilizing the cutting edge, galaxy-grazing, Uniview software to be the first portable planetarium in the world.

It is a virtual trip around the cosmos: to go. And it all fits comfortably in the back of a minivan.

“We are the only major metropolitan area without a planetarium,” Kunkle said.

“We needed programming to tell the story of astronomy, but how do we reach people?”

So, without a facility for the people to go to and hear the “story of astronomy,” they decided to create a facility to go and show the story of astronomy to the people.

“It is a visualization environment,” Kunkle said.

The Minnesota High Tech Society is the largest technology trade organization in Minnesota.

They link up the private and public sectors throughout the state in order to promote Minnesota’s technology industry.

Their members include Medtronic, 3M, IBM, MNPS, as well as MCTC. Each year they hold a ceremony, this year at the Minneapolis Convention Center, where they honor innovation, leadership, and advancements in technology for Minnesota based companies, higher education, and non-profit organizations, with a Tekne award.

Of the twelve award categories, the MNPS was honored for “Technology Excellence in Higher Education or Non Profit Organization” up against St. John’s University, for putting the entire Bible online; and The Works, an Edina based interactive science and engineering museum for kids.

“A number of volunteers worked very hard on this,” Kunkle said. “It gives more credit to what we are doing.”

The ExploraDome is currently set up in the Minnesota Children’s Museum where it will be conducting $1.00 space travels until January 2.