Houston In The Cometary Crosshairs
October, 2009

Patricia Reiff returned from India just in time to destroy Houston. Actually, the culprit is an imaginary comet, and the razing of Rice's home city is only make-believe. For now.

Reiff, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute, was in India to install two Discovery Domes - completely immersive domed planetariums that utilize digital technology and can be installed in fixed facilities or in mobile, inflatable domes. The domes, which can bring lessons about the heavens to some of the more remote places on Earth have been dlievered to 75 locations on six continents since Reiff and her partners at the Houstom Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) built the first digital fixed dome in 1998 and the first portable one in 2003.

Look Out! Here Comes 'Impact Earth'
April 24, 2009

Impact Earth opens at Houston Museum of Natural Science

A partnership of the Rice Space Institute with the Houston Museum of Natural Science brings a new planetarium show about major impacts to the fulldome screen. Members of the Rice Space Institute and community members of the RSI-Associates are invited to special screenings. See the RSI home page ( to sign up! The show opens at HMNS on May 1 and will be available worldwide both for big domes and portable Discovery Domes.

AGU Scientists Host Teacher Workshop in Ethiopia
March 4, 2008

When you look at a map of the world showing the location of ground-based space physics instrumentation (radars, magnetometers, ionosondes, GPS dual-frequency receivers, and lidars), you quickly recognize Africa’s lack of space physics research infrastructure. One priority of the United Nations–sponsored International Heliophysical Year (IHY) is the development of such an infrastructure in Africa.

Immersive Earth project featured in Planetarian Magazine
Planetarian, Vol 34, No. 2, June 2005

Researchers from the Rice Space Institute in partnership with the Houston Museum of Natural Science, are leadeing a NASA-funded project to develop portable technology that will allow exciting new "fully immersive" planetarium programs to be shown across the country inside inflatable, classroom-sized domes. Immersive Earth is a five-year $3.1 million project that brings together six museums, two universities, and three companies to create and distribute full-dome digital planetarium shows nationwide. Immersive Earth aims for a wider audience through the development of a small, fully portably system that uses an inflatable dome and single-projector display. The Immersive Earth grant will also pay for the creation of three new programs: "Earth's Wild Ride, which takes place in the year 2081, is now available; Earth in the Balance; and Earth in Peril.

"Earth's Wild Ride" now showing at HMNS and SOON in the portable domes!
Houston Museum of Natural Science, March 3, 2005

NOW SHOWING: "Earth's Wild Ride" at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. How would you describe the glories of Earth to colonists born on the Moon who can see the blue globe but can't go there? Take a virtual journey through the dramatic places of earth in fulldome digital theater. Soon will join our other fulldome digital shows available in our portable planetariums.Our new "Discovery Dome", with our "V-dome" vestibule entry, brings immersive theater "on the road" to schools and other venues at a very low cost. Contact Tara Oakes to schedule the dome in the Houston area, and Hung Pham for Northeast area shows and system sales.

"Earth Forum" becomes "Mars Forum" with Bill Nye
Houston Museum of Natural Science, January 17, 2004

"First Light" Live From Mars, from Passport to Knowledge, brought hundreds of kids and Bill Nye to showcase our software on live TV. Sponsored by NASA and NSF, this program highlighted the exciting new images from Spirit as Opportunity neared Mars. Click on thumbnail for larger image of Bill Nye, astronaut Bonnie Dunbar, and Orlando Figueroa with U-Tech students after the live show from "Earth Forum", redesignated "Mars Forum". Click here and here for more images from the live Mars events.

Burke Baker Planetarium exhibits offer fun for all ages
Houston Chronicle, January 18, 2003

"HELD OVER"! "Night of the Titanic", the most popular fulldome digital show in the history of HMNS, has had its run extended by popular demand. Click here for the article in the January 18 Houston Chronicle, and click here for more information on this show.

Titanic Teaches Earth Science


Carnegie show offers wild ride through nature
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 22, 2000

The opening of FORCE 5 in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was featured in an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

New Earth Theater film lassos fury of storms
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 22, 2000

The opening of FORCE 5 in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was featured in an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Click the image to download a PDF version of that article.

Revamped planetarium brings space closer to home
Houston Chronicle article

The addition of SkyVision's Sky-Skan projection system to the Houston Museum of Natural Science's Burke Baker Planetarium, creating the Globe Theater, was featured in an article in the Houston Chronicle.

Carolyn Sumners named to Top Irish Americans list
Irish America Magazine

Dr. Carolyn Sumners, the director of astronomy at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and co-director of the "Public Connection" project, was recently named to a list of top Irish Americans.


The First Kiosk in the News
Houston Chronicle article October 17, 1994

Our SHOEMAKER LEVY - 9 kiosk went online in the Museum's Grand Hall October 19, 1994, and ran as a single stand-alone touchscreen module until April 21, 1995. The grand opening was the subject of a Houston Chronicle article "A Universe at your Fingertips", describing the project. SL9 was later joined by our modules SPACE WEATHER and EARTH TODAY. The combined SPACE UPDATE project opened April 21, 1995, in the same kiosk. It continues to serve over 300 visitors per day.

Grand Opening - EARTH TODAY
Frank Billingsley's live weather broadcast from the Kiosk July 19, 1995

The EARTH TODAY triple kiosk opened July 20, 1995. It has three independent modules: WELCOME TO PLANET EARTH, SPACE WEATHER and HOUSTON TODAY. HOUSTON TODAY includes real-time data from a local network of 15 school-based weather stations, and will soon include Houston environmental information. Of these, four were paid for from this grant, and 11 from KPRC-TV (NBC Channel 2). Our "Grand Opening" was covered by two local television stations: KPRC and KNWS (Channel 51, an independent news station). The image shows Channel 2 weatherman Frank Billingsley making his live 6 p.m. weather report from the kiosk on July 19, 1995.

A young visitor to WELCOME TO PLANET EARTH

Quicktime movies of our press coverage are available which give a good view of the triple kiosk in action: KNWS-TV coverage (3.8MB); KPRC 5 pm news featuring SPACE WEATHER and HOUSTON TODAY (9.4 MB); KPRC 6 pm news featuring PLANET EARTH and HOUSTON TODAY (8.6 MB).

Certificate of Recognition

We were delighted to receive, during the grand opening ceremonies, a certificate of recognition from the Houston City Council, presented by Councilman Judge Peavy. Recipients included Rice University, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the Public Connection team. Representatives from Senator Phil Gramm's office were also on hand for the festivities.

Article from RICE NEWS

Our project's grand opening of EARTH TODAY was featured in a "Rice News" article September 27th, 1995. (Page 1, Page 2)

Chronicle of Higher Education Article

Our project was also highlighted in a recent "Chronicle of Higher Education" story "The Whole World, on a Kiosk" featuring our project (September 22 issue, page A8).

Apollo 13 Controllers Participate in Historic Mission

In September, we brought the internet to Challenger Center simulations. The Houston Museum of Natural Science premiered a new simulation "Back to the Moon", where the student astronauts and student mission controllers land a space station "Legacy" on the Moon. The first flight of "Legacy" occurred September 13, 1995, with 19 veterans of Apollo 13 (including Flight Director Gene Kranz and Capcom Joe Kerwin sitting in their old seats) helping the students at Mission Control.

Houston Chronicle article September 14, 1995

The astronauts who flew that day in the "Legacy" were children and grandchildren of the controllers, astronauts and scientists participating in the original Apollo 13. Not surprisingly, we got extensive newspaper, radio and TV coverage of this historic mission. (Click on the thumbnail to download the Houston Chronicle article). For page 2, click here.

Gene Kranz as Flight Director

That mission was our first Museum videoconference over the internet, with students at Rice University participating as remote observers of the proceedings. Click Kranz's image or here to download a jpg screen capture of some of the participants of that first online Challenger Center mission. As a result of that experiment, now students staying at the home schools can watch and participate as their classmates fly in space at the Museum.

Live from the Stratosphere

On October 12, 1995, students in the Museum and across Texas participated in the "Live from the Stratosphere" Jupiter Flight. Twenty students at Houston's Challenger Center Mission Control fielded, sorted, and uplinked live to the Kuiper Observatory questions received by Cu-SeeMe from over 400 students elsewhere in the Museum and at 6 sites around Texas. The scientists and crew onboard the Kuiper (including Rice PhD graduates Al Harper and Bob Loewenstein) then answered their questions (and others from around the country) on live TV, carried nationally by PBS and NASA Select. The project was highlighted in the local press, including most of the local television stations and two web articles "Face to Face in Cyberspace" and "Students Soar in Cyberspace at Houston Museum of Natural Science" on the Houston Chronicle Interactive web site. Channel 13 (KTRK-TV) showed a special segment on their Sunday morning news show. You can download a quicktime movie of that news coverage (33 MB).

A Trip To Mars

NASA Astronaut Tom Jones leads KIPP Academy students Andrea Hill, Adam Hill and Scott Sumners on a virtual tour of Mars during "Science Quest", a live monthly television show brought to students by the Houston Museum of Natural Science.



Labelled with ICRA

The "Public Connection": is an outreach arm of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University in collaboration with the Houston Museum of Natural Science [ Project Director: Patricia Reiff ].
This project is funded by NASA as part of the Earth Science Information Partners.
The project was originally part of NASA's Digital Library Technology Project, and now is part of the Learning Technologies Program. UPDATED: 06-26-08