KILLEEN — The COVID-19 pandemic put almost a complete stop to fun, indoor activities, but places to take the family are starting to open up again. The Mayborn Science Theater and Planetarium on the campus of Central Texas College is one of those close by places that is really cool and a must-see attraction in Killeen.
Even though I have lived in the Fort Hood area for more than eight years, I had never been. If I’d had a better idea of what it was, it would have been one of my first stops after arriving at the Great Place. I got an email from CTC that the theater was reopening and I made up my mind I was finally going to go visit.
Even from the outside, the theater is a bit of an oddity to behold, with its circular shape and dome roof, surrounded by a walkway framed by arches. Just the architecture alone told me this was going to be something special.
Inside the entrance are some things that will catch the eyes of the kids (and this adult) while grown-ups are buying tickets. You can touch a rock from space and you can also see what the machine looks like that projects the stars we see in the night sky on the dome-shaped screen in the theater. More about that later.
After passing the ticket counter, I was seated by an usher and ready for my matinee screening. It wasn’t crowded at all as the theater is operating at reduced capacity for the sake of safety and social distancing.
The feature I saw was called “One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure.” A brilliant spectacle of light and color, the show aims to nurture a child’s natural sense of wonder about the night sky. It follows “Sesame Street’s” Big Bird and Elmo as they explore the night sky and take an imaginary trip from Sesame Street to the moon where they discover how different it is from Earth.
This show is obviously aimed at kids, but I still enjoyed it for the story and visual effects. Other shows for the little ones include “Secret of the Cardboard Rocket,” “Zulu Patrol: Down to Earth,” and “Dinosaurs at Dusk: The Origins of Flight.” There are other shows produced for adults that the staff assure me children enjoy as well.
After the main feature, the planetarium manager, Cliff Bailey, did a masterful job of guiding the audience through a tour of the night sky in Texas. He showed us several of the major constellations we see in the night sky and gave us the history of how they came to be named. More importantly, he did it in a manner that kept the kids engaged too. Not an easy task.
After the tour of the night sky, I started to get up, but some kids who had obviously been there before started chanting, “Roller coaster! Roller coaster! Roller coaster!”
Mr. Bailey was expecting this. In a matter of moments, we were all barreling along in a virtual roller coaster that, because of the immersive nature of this theater, had my stomach churning just like a real one.
The theater has a very large catalog of shows in its library. To see what is playing next, check out the theater’s website at http://www.starsatnight.org. You can also stay up to date by following their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MaybornScienceTheater.