A science museum and planetarium in Balboa Park in the San Diego, CA, area, the Fleet Science Center (formerly known as the ‘Reuben H. Fleet Science Center’) is a popular destination for visitors. The museum is located near the eastern end of the El Prado Drive promenade, adjacent to the Bea Evenson Fountain and plaza in the heart of Balboa Park, on the east side of the park. When it opened in 1973, it was the first science museum in the world to integrate interactive science displays with a planetarium and an IMAX Dome (OMNIMAX) cinema, setting a precedent that is still followed by most major science museums today.
The museum is named after aviation pioneer Reuben H. Fleet, who was responsible for the birth of the United States Air Mail service. Consolidated Aircraft, owned by Fleet and based in San Diego, constructed several iconic World War II aircraft. Notably the B-24 Liberator and the PBY Catalina. Fleet and his family gave the original gift that allowed the Science Center to be established.
A new planetarium for Balboa Park in San Diego was planned by the San Diego Hall of Science (now known as the San Diego Space and Science Foundation) throughout the 1960s. Then reservations were made for the site on Laurel Street, across from the San Diego Natural History Museum, in 1963.
As time went on, they added several features to the planetarium. A video presentation, as well as traditional planetarium shows, were intended to be performed on it. The dome slanted 25 degrees would have a diameter of 76 feet. A slanted dome was constructed with the audience sitting in tiered rows facing outward, giving the impression of being suspended in space and looking forward rather than looking upward into an overhead dome. They also wanted to eliminate the dumbbell-shaped star projector often used in traditional planetariums. Instead, the projector protruded from the center of the room, obstructing the view.
The San Diego Hall of Science approached Spitz Laboratories, intending to develop a new star projector that would not interfere with the view for some attendees or interfere with their ability to see the movie projection system. The Space Transit Simulator was the centerpiece of Spitz’s system. It included a servo-controlled “starball” that served as the system’s focal point. Aspherical star projector and several independent planet projectors worked together to preserve a low profile while presenting a realistic sky for the astronomy presentations. A PDP-15 minicomputer controlled all the elements, some slide projectors, and lighting devices.