“Windows to New Worlds”

 A $1 million gift, praise from the administrator of NASA and a volley of model rockets were the order of the day Thursday,  as the South Carolina State Museum broke ground for “Windows to New Worlds,” its $23 million expansion and renovation project at its historic site in Columbia. The Boeing Company has approved a $1 million grant to fund an observatory – the first in the country designated for use by students of an entire state. NASA’s Gen. Charles Bolden said the educational initiatives happening in his hometown are “leading edge.” And he and students from the Challenger Center of Richland School District One launched model rockets to fully lift off the project. New technology in the Boeing Observatory will enable incredible views of the universe to be seen not only through the giant, historic Alvan Clark telescope by individuals, but by 125 people at once in the museum’s digital dome planetarium, as well as by every schoolchild in South Carolina via the Internet, in what the museum calls “virtual field trips.”  A 4D theater, the largest of its kind in the state, also is part of the project. “These enhancements to the museum’s programming in Columbia are directly tied to the nation’s educational emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Bolden, a Columbia native, who has headed NASA since 2009 and, as an astronaut, spent 680 hours in space. The expansion is expected to open in late 2013 or early 2014.