Still closed after Irma, Cocoa planetarium and observatory needs $9M to reopen

Eastern State exploring options to raise money to repair facility

COCOA, Fla. – Almost a year after Hurricane Irma hit the Space Coast, causing significant damage to the only planetarium and observatory in Northern Brevard County, Eastern Florida State College is launching an initiative to raise money for repairs.

The Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory, located on the Cocoa EFSC campus, has been closed since September.

The 48,500-square-foot planetarium complex, built in 1974, was in need of upgrades before Irma, but Eastern State officials said it will remain closed indefinitely until a new roof and other safety issues can be permanently fixed.

In its more than 40-year history, the Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory has shared the history of space exploration and astronomy with the community. Its laser-light shows featuring Pink Floyd and U2 were a popular pastime during hot summer months.

"It was a really cool place. You got to learn a lot about space," EFSC astronomy student Brycen Cherry said. "It's kind of frustrating when the only thing we get to watch is YouTube videos when we have a multimillion dollar building at our disposal that we can't use."

John Glisch, EFSC's associate vice president for communications, announced Thursday that the college is exploring new options to raise money and reopen the facility.

To achieve the funding needed and save the facility, the college will add the planetarium restoration project to its budget request approved by the Florida Legislature annually. Officials said they will explore a campaign to determine if there is a financial support in the community to fund the multimillion-dollar project.

On Friday, Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) said he's interested in working with the school to get results.

"In no other place in America is understanding the potential of space more important," Fine said in a statement on the planetarium.

The college hired a contractor to conduct a study of the building to determine the full extent of the damages. Cape Design Engineering Co. estimated $5 million in repairs are needed to bring the building back up to code.

The rooftop telescope, which allowed guests and astronomers to view the night sky, was not damaged.

Since 2010, planetarium officials have said they need to upgrade technology used for laser-light shows and the observatory. They estimated those upgrades would cost $5 million.

"Unfortunately, the college does not have the funds to undertake such a large and costly project," Glisch said in a news release.

In the past few years, planetarium officials worked with Delaware-North Corp, which operates the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and Brevard County Public School officials about purchasing the planetarium, but both groups declined, Glisch said.

Donors interested in the planetarium project are asked to contact Glisch at 321-433-7017 or glischj@easternflorida.edu.

About the Authors: