To Infinity And Beyond

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (L) speaks with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (R), D-NV, about immigration reform 16 May 2006 on Captiol Hill in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Jim Watson
The Hayden Planetarium, a New York City landmark since 1935, was leveled in 1997. In February, three years and $210 million later, a new Hayden Planetarium reopened as part of the Rose Center for Earth and Space.

One man who was very happy about that is the director of the planetarium, Neil de Grasse Tyson, reports CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Jacqueline Adams.

Tyson was introduced to the cosmos at 9 years old when he traveled from the Bronx to sit under the old planetarium dome. Now, at age 41, the youngest director in the Hayden Planetarium's long history, he's awfully proud to show off his new baby.

"I was at my high school reunion a few years ago, and I was voted having the coolest job," Tyson said. "And I thought about it. I said, 'No, no.' But then I said, 'Well, yeah, actually. It is pretty cool to be the director of the Hayden Planetarium.' Because we all remembered it as a kid."

Two walls of the Rose Center are made of super-transparent glass, and a giant sphere seemingly floats in the middle. Visitors can see an actual meteorite that weighs 15.5 tons, a hermetically sealed ecosystem where shrimp survive without outside contact, and plenty of eye-opening computerized exhibits.

But if Tyson wants people to take one thing away from here, it's the concept that the universe is huge.

"If you walk in here with a big ego, you won't walk out with it," he said, adding, "It's humbling in the presence of the grandeur and majesty of this universe to learn how small we are. The universe is much, much bigger than us."

Exhibits abound that illustrate the Earth's place in the universe, and inevitably visitors wind up noticing how small the planet is.

"In fact," noted Tyson, "if the sun were hollow, you could pour more than a million Earths inside of it and still have room left over."

A Closer Look at the Museum

Architect James Stewart Polshek of New York designed the new Hayden Planetarium along with his partner Todd Schliemann. The original Hayden Planetarium was named after Charles Hayden, a philanthropist and banker.

The Frederick Phineas and Sandra Rose Center for Earth and Space was named for the couple who donated $20 million toward the new planetarium.

Music during the Space Show, composed by Stephen Endelman, is available on a CD, Passport to the Universe. The ambint music in the Hall of the Universe is by Aaron Jay Kernis.

The American Museum of Natural History is located at Central Park West at 79th St., New York, N.Y. Admission, which includes the Rose Center, costs $10 for adults, $6 for children, and $7.50 for seniors and students. Combination tickets, for the museum, Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium Space Show, run $19 for adults, $11.50 for children, and $14 for seniors and students. Group visits may be booked at 212-769-5200.

The museum is open every day, except Thanksgiving and Christmas, Sunday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Space Shows are scheduled Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Friday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. For advance tickets, call 212-769-5200 or visit the Web site.

The main attraction of the museum is inside the giant sphere: The Hayden Planetarium Sky Theatre.

"You can move through space and have the star field move past your field of view. And it is scientifically accurate. When you move among the stars, the star field looks exactly as it would look if, in fact, you were on a starship. We ascend out of the galaxy and reach out to the farthest distances in the universe. And it's a journey."

Is it a journey he would like to take for real?

"If I'm going to go into space, that's the kind of journey I want to take, right to the edge of the universe," said Tyson. "And as long as there's enough budget to get back, I'll be happy."

Does he think there is intelligent life out there?

"I think there's certainly life out there. It'll be much harder to find intelligent life," he replied. "And I'm not going worry about whether we can send signals, radio signals and whether they have the technology. I'd be happy shaking hands with bacteria."

"I love the universe," he said simply. "There are times when I'm walking down the street, I just want to grab somebody and say 'Look up! There's Saturn, and there's Jupiter!'"

But perhaps most of all: "I'd like to believe that once you've visited this facility, you'll have a different sense of our place in the universe," he said.

It is certainly a major goal of the facility to rekindle America's love affair with space travel and with science. The planetarium, said Tyson, will give people the best night sky they have ever seen, and the sphere itself is designed to give visitors some idea of what the shuttle astronauts experience when they're orbiting Earth.

But for the city of New York, the goals are a little more Earth-bound. This newest star in the city's galaxy of museums is expected to generate millions of dollars in sales and more in tax revenue. As a science center and tourist attraction, it's likely to deliver an extra 1 million visitors a year for its parent the Museum of Natural History.