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Vandenberg Launch Experience Unveils Celestial Ceiling at Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kadielle Shaw
  • Space Launch Delta 30 Public Affairs

Members of Vandenberg Space Force Base, the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum, and the local community came together on June 12, 2023, to commemorate an update at the Vandenberg Launch Experience exhibit. The event, held at the museum, celebrated the addition of the much anticipated “celestial ceiling" to the immersive and interactive space-themed exhibit.

The official unveiling of the celestial ceiling marked the culmination of years of dedication, hard work, and passion. The ceiling at the top of the Vandenberg Launch Experience allows the perception of a view of space in conjunction with the launch exhibit screen to watch a satellite deploy its systems in space after release from a rocket. The ceiling can also be programmed for planetarium-like star projection to educate students on astronomy and different constellations.

Designed to ignite children's curiosity and foster an interest in STEM fields, the Vandenberg Launch Experience captivates visitors with its mock mission control center, created from a repurposed United Launch Alliance launch console, and a replica of the Discovery space shuttle. It also incorporates video from Vandenberg rocket launches and allows guests to run the countdown, oversee the launch and work in teams to run the operations.

The journey to create this exhibit began in 2015 through a partnership between the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum and Vandenberg Space Force Base. In September 2016, both organizations signed an Educational Partnership Agreement, solidifying collaboration. With the support of the Air Force, the project received $30,000 in STEM funding between 2015 and 2017, allowing construction to commence. In August 2017, the Discovery Museum, in collaboration with the base, applied for the National Defense Education Program STEM Grant, securing $250,000 in funding in September 2017. These funds played a crucial role in expanding the exhibit's features and bringing the Vandenberg Launch Experience to life.

On April 23, 2018, the museum hosted a reception and ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the Vandenberg Launch Experience. However, challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic delayed a formal celebration for the celestial ceiling.

Col. Robert Long, Space Launch Delta 30 commander, attended the ceremony and addressed the audience, highlighting the exhibit's significance in enriching the community and inspiring children to explore the world of STEM. He expressed his delight in having the opportunity to celebrate the Vandenberg Launch Experience, emphasizing how it displays the fun, excitement, and accessibility of space exploration.

Jenn Malone, the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum’s executive director also spoke passionately about the exhibit, recognizing its impact on local children. Malone emphasized the Vandenberg Launch Experience's ability to provide young visitors with an active role in exploring the wonders of space through play. She lauded the completion of the celestial ceiling as the final touch that brings wonder, excitement, and joy to the exhibit.

“The Vandenberg Launch Experience Exhibit stands as a remarkable testament to the collaborative partnership between Vandenberg Space Force Base and the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum,” said Tom Stevens, SLD 30’s executive director and former STEM coordinator. “This joint effort has created an extraordinary and immersive learning environment that will inspire generations to come. By showcasing the possibilities within the realms of launch and STEM fields, the exhibit encourages young minds to pursue their dreams fearlessly and discover the limitless wonders of the universe.”