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‘Under-the-dome’ constellations fascinate Madison elementary students

James Brelsford with Von Braun Astronomical Society leads Frankie Mack, at left, and Carley White into the portable planetarium during Space Week at Madison Elementary School. (RECORD PHOTO/GREGG PARKER)
James Brelsford with Von Braun Astronomical Society leads Frankie Mack, at left, and Carley White into the portable planetarium during Space Week at Madison Elementary School. (RECORD PHOTO/GREGG PARKER)
Inside the planetarium, Carley White, from left, James Brelsford and Frankie Mack take on an out-of-this-world persona against the darkened 'sky.' (RECORD PHOTO/GREGG PARKER)
Inside the planetarium, Carley White, from left, James Brelsford and Frankie Mack take on an out-of-this-world persona against the darkened ‘sky.’ (RECORD PHOTO/GREGG PARKER)

MADISON – Frankie Mack, a Madison Elementary School fourth-grader, learned about stars, constellations “and stories (about) each one of them” during Space Week.

“I got to see the North Star. It was really fascinating. Now, I think I would like to be a stargazer,” Mack said.

During Space Week, a portable planetarium on loan from Woodmen of the World was a major attraction. The planetarium resembles an inflatable ‘bounce house’ but with thick material to prohibit outside light.

James Brelsford, an astronomy educator with Von Braun Astronomical Society, led students through an air lock to sit on the darkened bubble’s floor to observe the ‘night’ sky from a projector.

Brelsford’s grade-appropriate lessons included a star show and demonstrations of the planets, moon and sun. He hopes the children will “get outside instead of in front of the TV and X-boxes.”

For 35-plus years, Brelsford worked as a aerospace software engineer on systems like the THAAD missile, C-5 cargo jet, F-22 fighter, F-117a Nighthawk, SR-71 Blackbird and B-2 Bomber.

During Space Week, Mack realized “robots can be fascinating. Robots need three things: a brain; sprockets and gears; and parts that move in ways that allow it to do its job,” he said.

Mack and his classmates actually designed and assembled a robot with recyclable materials, like two-litter soda bottles and cans.

“I also learned there are different rocks in space, like asteroids, meteors and comets. I learned about the history of space and our part in the Space Race with the Soviet Union,” Mack said.

Cindy Rhodes accompanied her fourth-grader class ‘under the dome.’ “The kids loved the planetarium and so did I,” Rhodes said. “That dear man and his wife (James and Carolyn Brelsford) have been at school all week giving our children this experience. We do appreciate it so much.”

The Madison elementary students “were in awe of the display on the dome. They all want to go home and find their constellation,” Rhodes said.

Karen Hartselle chaired the Space Week committee.

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