Dr. Leslie E. Spanel Planetarium Timeline

An image of a full moon, the side seen from Earth, against a black background

How we came to be

Timeline of events:

1959: The initial construction of the facility featured a Spitz Model A-2 "pinhole" star projector which was donated by the University of Washington thanks to the efforts Dr. Willard Brown. Some of the other early planeteers were William Bender, Richard Small, and Ralph Aeschliman. Projections by the Spitz A-2 included 1000 naked eye stars, planets, sun, the moon in 10 different phases, Milky Way, Andromeda, meridian, ecliptic, twilight, geocentric view, and a comet. Both northern and southern skies could be projected. The seating was 15 curved wooden pews arranged in three sets of three, forming a full circle. Each pew had room for 5 adults for a total of 45. There was an auxiliary slide projector that could be operated from the center console.

1995, July: Brad Snowder assumed the duties of manager and presenter. The website was first posted shortly thereafter. The website has undergone many revisions since then. Click here to visit Brad's Astronomy Pages.

2004, August: The Spitz A-2 was removed and a major upgrade of the facility was accomplished thanks to a combination of funding: the WWU Student Technology Fee, and a matching state grant approved by the Washington State Legislature.

The upgraded profile included:

  • Konica Minolta Mediaglobe full-color digital planetarium projector.
  • Resurfaced and repainted dome.
  • New curved, corner console, formica with a cherrywood top.
  • Separate operation computer for remote control of the projector.
  • DTS 5.1 surround sound system.
  • Dual-processor video/audio production computer.
  • Full Adobe video production software suite.
  • Image Anyplace - realtime image warping device.
  • Progressive scan DVD player.
  • Wireless Network and high-speed Internet connectivity.
  • Auxilary program monitor.
  • Dozens of full-dome video programs.

Thanks goes to WWU Scientific Technical Services for the elegant design and fabrication of the projector dais and matching control console. click for larger 2005, October: The planetarium received shipment of high quality IMAX type seating for 45. The following month the seats were installed. Purchase of the seating was greatly facilitated by contributions from many friends of the planetarium, especially President Karen Morse of WWU, and Washington State Senator Harriet Spanel.

2007, April & May: Major renovations were implemented. The old glass display cabinets were removed thus increasing the overall size of the facility and making wider access to the control console. New carpet was installed. Florescent lights were removed and replaced with track lighting. The gray cement walls were painted dark (Viking) blue.

2007, August: The primary entrance to the planetarium was changed from the door on Red Square to the doors under the sky bridge that connects the Wilson and Haggard sections of the library. The Red Square entrance was designated as emergency only.

2007, November: The old Spitz Model A-2 planetarium projector, that had been crated up and placed in storage following the upgrade, was acquired from WWU by Brad Snowder and placed on permanent loan to Spark Museum of Electrical Invention (formerly The American Museum of Radio and Electricity) in downtown Bellingham, WA.

2009, September: WWU Scientific Technical Services designed and fabricated a printer/bookshelf cabinet to match our control console.

2009, November: Facebook and Twitter accounts were created for the planetarium.

2013, April:Google+ community was created for the planetarium.

2013, October: The Facility is officially named "Dr. Leslie E. Spanel Planetarium" and planning begins for technical upgrades including a Digistar 5 projector.

2014, February: An Evans & Sutherland Digistar 5 projection system was installed, tested, and declared operational.

2015, July: A production computer workstation was built and installed by Max Knittel, engineering technologist of the WWU Physics/Astronomy Department.

2016, March: The planetarium joined with the Bellingham Public School district to advance the Next Generation Science Standards. Presentations were customized in cooperation with district officials and faculty in order to integrate with the science curriculum of 4th and 5th grade students.

2017, September: The Public School Next Generation Science Standards program was extended to include other Whatcom County school districts. Ryann joins the planetarium as a student employee.

2018, April: Pinterest and Instagram accounts were created for the planetarium.

2019, January: Brad's Astronomy Pages were incorporated into the website.

2020, April: In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the planetarium was temporarily closed and virtual planetarium shows were created and run by work-from-home staff.

2021, March: Funding was granted from Westerns Student Technology Fee to purchase an upgrade to the system.

2021, October: An Evans & Sutherland Digistar 7 projection system was installed, tested, and declared operational.


Number of marriage proposals in the facility to date: 2

Spitz A-2 Pinhole Projector
Konica Minolta Mediaglobe digital projector and navy blue IMAX type seats
Planetariums first home page layout from 1995
Planetariums control console, four different monitors on a desk with 3 different keyboards help run the show
Spanels logo, black half circle, Spanel Planetarium displayed in white text with a white star above
Evens & Sutherlands. A red square with a "E&S" in white at the bottom, and the words "EVENS & SUTHERLAND" under