Musser Copernican Planetarium

This is my newest acquisition. If anyone has an operator's manual for this, I would like to obtain a scan or hardcopy. Also, if anyone has any overlay disks they would like to sell, please e-mail me.

This is the fantastic Musser Copernican Classroom Planetarium, Model 500. It is an electric orrery that was designed by Dr. Claire O. Musser and was built by Scientific Space Industries, a division of Hughes Aircraft Company Vacuum Tube Products Division. The seven foot tall unit (used mainly at colleges and planetariums) was introduced at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, I'm not sure if the smaller classroom version that I have was demonstrated there also. Many internet sources that I have read claim that you could only buy this at the World's Fair, but I think it was probably introduced there and then produced over the next few years (the scan of the manual that I was given has a copyright date of 1964, so maybe the smaller unit was introduced after the World's Fair, but again I don't know for sure). Some of the overlay disks are for dates in the mid to later sixties. According to the 1962 Sky & Telesope Magazine's article on the World's Fair, the seven foot model had an optics system which projected the images of the planets onto the display screen instead of having them mounted on wire like mine.

Space travel and the future were very popular themes during this period. The design and shape of this planetarium reflects that. It has futuristic styling, flourescent paints on the planets, new (in that era) plastics, and chrome hardware. This orrery is motorized so that the planets move automatically over time around the sun. It has built in ultra-violet lighting so that the flourescent painted planets glow as they move over the star field - an amazing effect. Using removable overlay disks the planetarium can also be used to model eclipses, comets, asteroids, the movement of the tides, and various space missions of the 1960s. My unit has 17 overlay disks.

There were a few problems with my planetarium, but I have finished restoring this unit. Below are several photos, left is "before" and right is "after". First, the whole unit from the front. The round 1/16" plexiglass window was scratched and cracked. I had a local glass shop make a new one out of 1/8" lexan.

Below is a close up of the control panel. To the right of the Saturn knob is a window with a number - this is the elapsed time, in earth years. When the motor is turned on, the planets begin to orbit. Every time the Earth makes one revolution, the number advances one year. The indicator at the right shows the months, vernal equinox, autumnal equinox, summer solstice, and the winter solstice. The needle was missing but I had a new one made out of stainless steel. It is very similar to the original, I had a photo another owner sent to me to use as a guide. The photo was from an angle, so the dimensions of my new one might not be exactly correct. In the photo below, the needle didn't show up very well. It is flat and the edges are smooth, despite the appearance in the picture.

The planets are driven by a motor and ball-chain/pulley system. The ball-chains look like the chains used to secure pens at the bank and other places. The chain that drives Mercury is loose, there is no adjustment so I'm going to have to make a tension bar to take up the slack - Mercury is not rotating properly with the loose chain. Next pictures are close-ups of the planets. The flourescent paint was peeling and you can see two little cracks in the center of the 1/16" thick plexiglass cover by the "Sun" light. There was another large 3" crack at the lower left side of the cover - not seen in this photo. I ordered several sets of flourescent paints, but they were all exactly the same, and the newer paints are different than the old original paints. For instance, the yellow has a greenish tint that the original didn't have. I took a few liberties by slightly modifying the colors of the planets when I repainted them. Note: despite its appearance in the photo on the right, Jupitar does not have a purple spot on it. It is a photo artifact.

Next is a picture of the flourescent effect in a darkened room. This is really stunning in person. The red light in the center represents the Sun.

Below is the data plate, showing serial number 515, and eleven of the overlay disks. These are about 16" in diameter. I have a few more: three blanks ones, and two that are supposed to be motorized, but they are missing parts. I also have two duplicate constellation disks: February and April. There are supposed to be 12 of these - one for each month. I only have January through April. If anyone wants to trade for my two spares, please contact me.

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Updated August 2, 2008