Family Fights to Keep Planetarium With or Without Fallen Astronaut's Name

By Jane Watrel
|  Wednesday, Mar 17, 2010  |  Updated 7:37 PM EDT
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Budget Cuts put Arlington Planetarium on Chopping Block

California Academy of Sciences

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Budget Cuts put Arlington Planetarium on Chopping Block

One of the Arlington school system's most enduring and unique classrooms may fall victim to budget cuts.
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For decades, the David M. Brown Planetarium has been a fixture in Arlington, Va. Each year thousands of youngsters get a first-hand look into the inner workings of outer space.

But Arlington County Public School officials say times have changed. The Brown Planetarium costs about $750,000 to staff and operate.

"We find ourselves in a different budget season in Arlington," said Assistant Superintendent Mark Johnston. "We’re experiencing budget reductions like other jurisdictions have experienced previously."

The move isn't sitting well with David Brown's family. The planetarium was named after the Arlington native and NASA astronaut who died in 2003's space shuttle Columbia disaster.

David Brown's brother, Doug, of Fairfax County, disputed the costs of keeping the teaching tool open.

"This can be afforded," he said. "If David were looking down on us, he would say take the name off the building but keep the planetarium."  

The closing of the planetarium is not intended as a slight to the Brown family, Arlington officials said. Superintendent Dr. Pat Murphy is proposing naming the science wing of Yorktown High School after the fallen astronaut, who graduated from Yorktown High in 1974.

The family was not contacted about the Yorktown High School gesture, Doug Brown said.

"That's the first I've heard of it," he told News4. "I'm sure it's a great honor, but this is about the planetarium, not about David's name."

Doug Brown and other planetarium supporters plan to attend an Arlington school board meeting Thursday night, to protest the move.

Arlington officials said they plan to turn the planetarium into a classroom and will bus students to other planetariums in the area, like the Albert Einstein facility at the National Air and Space Museum.
 

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