Morehead History

Part 5 – The Planetarium Grows

Many more people than James Lovell and his fellow astronauts have learned about the stars at Morehead Planetarium. By Morehead’s 50th anniversary in 1999, more than five million spectators – half of them schoolchildren – had visited its Star Theater to learn about the cosmos. Over the past half-century, these five million spectators have all benefited from ongoing updates to the planetarium’s facilities.

Zeiss VI Delivery
Planetarium Director Tony Jenzano, who put together the planetarium’s original Zeiss II star projector, signs off on the delivery of a new Zeiss VI projector in 1969. The Zeiss VI remained in use until April 2011. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.
In 1969, the planetarium replaced the Zeiss II star projector that Morehead had purchased in Sweden with a Zeiss VI. The Model VI provided a clearer star field, along with improved operational controls and features. Neil Armstrong – the first man to walk on the Moon – also has the distinction of being the first astronaut to train with the Model VI.

In 1973, John Motley Morehead’s full vision for his building was realized when the building's East Wing opened. The addition included the Morehead Observatory, which is fitted with a 24-inch Schmitt-Cassegrain telescope and is operated by UNC-Chapel Hill's department of physics and astronomy. This observatory is open, upon reservation, for the public each Friday night during the academic year.

3 millionth visitor
Planetarium Director Tony Jenzano greets Tommy Bryant of Burlington, N.C. – the planetarium’s three millionth visitor – in the early 1980s. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.

In 1984, Morehead became one of the first planetariums to utilize computer automation for its programs. Before automation, each feature of a planetarium show was set into motion by a technician following a cue by the narrator. With its new capacity for automation, the planetarium expanded its ability to present more complex shows.

Planetarium Timeline

1947 Construction of Morehead Planetarium begins.

1949 Morehead Planetarium opens to the public; Dr. Roy K. Marshall named director.

1951 Anthony Jenzano becomes Morehead’s second Director.

1959 Astronauts begin training at Morehead.

1969 New Zeiss VI star projector installed, replacing the Zeiss II.

1973 The east wing of the building completed, including the Morehead Observatory.

1975 As NASA shifts to the shuttle and navigational computers become more reliable, astronaut training at Morehead comes to an end.

1982 Dr. Lee Shapiro becomes the planetarium’s third director.

1984 Computer automation of programs introduced to Star Theater.

1989 Astronauts return to Morehead to celebrate the planetarium’s 40th anniversary, 30th anniversary of the Mercury program and 20th anniversary of the Moon landing.

1999 Morehead Planetarium celebrates its 50th anniversary as it welcomes its 5 millionth visitor.

2001 Dr. Holden Thorp becomes the planetarium’s fourth director.

2002 The planetarium is renamed Morehead Planetarium and Science Center to reflect an expanded mission to educate North Carolinians about all sciences.

2003 Morehead collaborates with Dr. James Watson to produce the film, “DNA: The Secret of Life.”

2006 Dr. Todd Boyette becomes the planetarium’s fifth director.

2010 Morehead installs new fulldome digital projection system, renames Star Theater as GlaxoSmithKline Fulldome Theater.

2010 Morehead creates the North Carolina Science Festival.

2011 Morehead decommissions its Zeiss VI star projector after 42 years of service.