The Return of the Beloved Arlington Planetarium

Evelyn Lowen, Sentry Reporter

Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium has yet to reopen after closing its doors in 2018. Community members are distraught and continue to push for it to be brought back as a resource for the school system. 

Opening in 1969, the planetarium has serviced schools throughout the county for years. Its interactive staff has been especially great at educating kids of all ages who have visited the building. The planetarium offers engaging scientific videos, primarily focused on astronomy, to students and the public. 

The name of the planetarium is significant as it is in honor of 1974 Yorktown graduate David McDowell Brown. First a United States Naval Captain and then a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut, Brown was accomplished. 

Unfortunately, in 2003, during his first space flight on Space Shuttle Columbia, Brown tragically died while the ship attempted to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and, five years later, the planetarium was renamed in his memory. 

The threat to close the planetarium began in 2010 due to budget cuts from Arlington County. Arlington Public Schools (APS) had announced plans to repurpose the building as another space for a classroom; however, our community did not let this happen. A non-profit organization, Friends of Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium (FOTP), was created. This group is entirely made up of volunteer workers and raises funds to support APS and improve the planetarium. 

FOTP was successful in preventing the imminent 2010 closure. However, in 2018, the building was closed because of nearby construction that would have made it unsafe to continue its operations. The team had expected to open towards the end of 2020, but, like many other things, the pandemic prevented its revival. 

During this prolonged closure, the FOTP has made videos and interactive science lessons to keep the community interested in the planetarium. They have continued to fundraise and increase awareness for this cause. As of now, the projected opening date is September of 2022. Hopefully, the planetarium will be brought back as a resource to enhance the learning of science and astronomy in our community.