Photo Gallery: South Carolina State Museum expansion grand opening includes surprise appearance by NASA chief

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Any questions regarding Columbia’s level of excitement over the opening of the South Carolina State Museum expansion were answered between 5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday.

SC State Museum Board Chair John McCabe cuts the ribbon at Saturday's grand opening with the help of students from the Challenger Learning Center (photo by Allen Wallace).

South Carolina State Museum Board Chair John McCabe cuts the ribbon at Saturday’s grand opening with the help of students from the Challenger Learning Center. (photo by Allen Wallace)

The grand opening ceremony began at 9 a.m. Saturday with hundreds of people assembled outside the front door of the museum, which now includes an observatory, planetarium and 4-D theater. Some in the crowd camped overnight to be among the first to enter, some arriving as early as 5 p.m. Friday. The first 100 in line were rewarded with a free yearlong membership to the museum.

“We think this project is going to propel us into the next 25 years,” said William Calloway, the museum’s executive director. He added that though the museum includes plenty of opportunities for fun, “Education is our focus.”

Richland County Council Chairman Norman Jackson also spoke at the grand opening ceremony, calling the museum an “economic development engine.” The ceremony continued with a launch of model rockets made by students from Richland School District One’s Challenger Learning Center. The students then helped to cut the ribbon, and as local bagpipers played a celebratory tune, the doors opened and the crowd moved in to enjoy the new additions and all the rest the museum has to offer.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden greeting visitors Saturday (photo by Allen Wallace).

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden greets visitors Saturday. (photo by Allen Wallace)

The first day’s guests included a surprise visitor: former astronaut and current head of NASA Charles Bolden. The Columbia native and retired Marine general surprised the crowd at the planetarium by appearing to introduce the noon show. Bolden also took time to chat and take pictures with many visitors, and joined visitors to catch a move in the new 4-D theater.

“It was great,” sad Anna Kate Twitty, the museum’s public relations manager. “People were sitting in the theater and all of a sudden, there was General Bolden.”

Observatory visitors had a chance to look at the surface of the sun and get a close (but safe) view of sunspots and solar flares, with help from museum staff.

The museum is now open seven days a week. Information on the new expansion, tickets and special events can be found at the museum’s website.

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