You are here

Conference Site Information

About the James S. McDonnell Planetarium at the Saint Louis Science Center

The James S. McDonnell Planetarium has been the gateway to the universe for Saint Louis and beyond since it first opened its doors on April 16, 1963. In its 54 years, the James S. McDonnell Planetarium has seen many wonderful eras, starting with a 60-foot dome and a Goto Saturn L-1, followed by one of the first Digistar projectors, installed in 1985 when the James S. McDonnell Planetarium reopened after extensive renovation as the McDonnell Star Theater – part of the new Saint Louis Science Center. The McDonnell Star Theater operated until 2000 when it closed for another extensive and unconventional renovation.

In 2001 the James S. McDonnell Planetarium reopened with a new, bigger and unique theater experience. The James S. McDonnell Planetarium at the Saint Louis Science Center now boasts a 24-meter dome that rests on staggered walls, allowing visitors to pass between the Orthwein StarBay (theater) and exhibit galleries that surround it as they please between shows. Removable seating allows for creative use of the space for events, school groups and live interactive shows with visitors. At the center of the enormous Orthwein StarBay lies the ZEISS UNIVERSARIUM Modell IX which produces over 9,000 stars and deep sky objects to create the most realistic simulated night sky possible. In 2016, the James S. McDonnell Planetarium upgraded to new efficient and versatile LED cove lighting. In September 2017 its UNIVERSARIUM will become the first and only of its kind in the Americas to have LED lamps illuminating its stars.

The James S. McDonnell Planetarium is a popular venue for weddings, corporate events, music concerts, scout camp-ins and even yoga practices. It is a beloved and well visited destination for schools from the Saint Louis area and beyond, as well a trusted source for space science within the community. The James S. McDonnell Planetarium gives visitors the opportunity to explore the universe and space science in a way they may not be able to from their own back yard or in a classroom setting, as it works to continue the mission of the Saint Louis Science Center: to ignite and sustain lifelong science and technology learning.


The Saint Louis Science Center’s OMNIMAX® Theater

The OMNIMAX is an IMAX Dome® theater featuring a giant 79 ft diameter, tilted dome screen that fills your field of vision and six channels of crystal clear, thunderous surround sound.

The OMNIMAX Theater is a truly immersive sight and sound film experience. Our breathtaking IMAX® 15/70 film presentations have enlightened and wowed audiences since opening in 1991.


About the Saint Louis Science Center

The Saint Louis Science Center traces its roots to the Academy of Science of St. Louis, founded in 1856 as the first scientific organization west of the Mississippi River. In 1959, the Academy created the Museum of Science and Natural History in Clayton’s Oak Knoll Park. When the Metropolitan Zoological Park & Museum District (ZMD) was formed in 1971, the Museum of Science and Natural History became a member, independent from the Academy, which continues to operate as a separate entity to this day.

The Museum then outgrew the facilities at Oak Knoll Park in the mid-1980s, and in 1984, the Museum acquired the James S. McDonnell Planetarium from the City of St. Louis. After extensive renovations, the Planetarium reopened in 1985 as the Saint Louis Science Center.

Following a $34 million expansion to construct the current main building on Oakland Avenue, the Science Center opened November 2, 1991, in its larger footprint including the five story OMNIMAX® Theater and a highway-spanning connection bridge. The Science Center added the EXPLORADOME in 1997 in order to provide an additional space for large traveling exhibitions. With the popularity of the EXPLORADOME, the Science Center took action to create a permanent exhibition space. In October, 2011 Boeing Hall opened dedicating 13,000 square feet of exhibit space for traveling exhibitions.

The 50,000 square foot area previously used for the EXPLORADOME was renovated into GROW, a permanent indoor/outdoor gallery dedicated to the experience of the journey of the food supply from farm to fork. The agriculture gallery opened to the public on June 18, 2016.

The Saint Louis Science Center was named a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate, the first in the St. Louis area, in 2016. This designation provides access to Smithsonian artifacts, traveling exhibits, and educational collaborations locally and nationally.

The Saint Louis Science Center features more than 700 interactive exhibits in ten galleries, including GROW, Mission: Mars, Life Science Lab, Makerspace, Discovery Room, Ecology and Environment, Human Adventure, Structures, Liftoff, and Experience Energy. In addition, guests can see science in action through Amazing Science Demonstrations at CenterStage, enjoy a thrilling film experience at the OMNIMAX Theater and gaze at the stars at the James S. McDonnell Planetarium.


About Saint Louis

Founded in 1764 by Pierre Lacleded Liguest and his scout Auguste Chouteau thanks to a land grant from the King of France, Saint Louis (named after King Louis IX of France) started as a humble fur trading post. The site was chosen due to being near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Saint Louis officially became a city in 1823 while Missouri would eventually become a territory of the United States in 1803 and a state in 1821.

Between the late 1800s and 1950, Saint Louis found itself home to a true melting pot as it opened its arms to the immigrants desiring to find a new home in America as well as Americans looking to move west. This gives Saint Louis a unique flavor rich with French, German, African-American, Irish, Italian, Greek, Serbian, Syrian heritage and more. The influences of our Saint Louis ancestors can still be seen in the street names, neighborhoods established, food and drink, and music.

In 1904, the world stopped and took notice of Saint Louis when it hosted both the Olympics (held on the grounds of Washington University), and the World’s Fair, or, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (held in Forest Park and later immortalized by the musical, Meet Me in Saint Louis staring Judy Garland).

By the 1960s revitalization and growth for the community could be seen in the downtown area with the building of the Gateway Arch (1965) and Busch Memorial Stadium (1966) home of the Saint Louis Cardinals, the renovation of Union Station (1985), as well as many other projects.

In 1986 a revitalization of Forest Park (home to the James S. McDonnell Planetarium) began. By the late 1990s a great change could be seen in the park, with many aspects being restored to the glory of their heyday. Forest Park has now been voted the Best Urban Park in the United States two years running.

Today, Saint Louis is home to beautiful parks, wonderful museums, a myriad of breweries and micro breweries, wonderful blues music, and delicious food. We hope that during the Pleiades National Planetarium Conference, you’ll call it home too!

Learn more about Saint Louis and its history throughout exhibits at the Saint Louis Science Center, the Missouri History Museum, the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Saint Louis Zoo, or just by taking a walk through beautiful Forest Park, all available to visit admission free during the conference.