If you watched the presidential debate on Tuesday, you may have noticed that John McCain counted a proposed $3 million earmark for a new “overhead projector” at the Adler Planetarium as an example of his opponent’s wasteful pork.  

On the theory that all publicity is good publicity, I’m pleased to report that this has spurred some discussion about museum funding on a national level.  At the very least, it’s called national attention to the dire state of the equipment at the Adler, which is a vital location of regional and national astronomy education, where the projector hasn’t been replaced for 40 years, and, since the federal government did not approve this request, where the quality of the experience may deteriorate.

The Adler has released a statement, which I’ll quote here since it’s a pdf:

Last night, during the presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, Senator John McCain

made the following statement:


McCain: “While we were working to eliminate these pork barrel earmarks he (Senator

Obama) voted for nearly $1 billion in pork barrel earmark projects. Including $3 million for

an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend

that kind of money?”


To clarify, the Adler Planetarium requested federal support – which was not funded – to

replace the projector in its historic Sky Theater, the first planetarium theater in the

Western Hemisphere. The Adler’s Zeiss Mark VI projector – not an overhead projector – is

the instrument that re-creates the night sky in a dome theater, the quintessential

planetarium experience. The Adler’s projector is nearly 40 years old and is no longer

supported with parts or service by the manufacturer. It is only the second planetarium

projector in the Adler’s 78 years of operation.


Science literacy is an urgent issue in the United States. To remain competitive and ensure

national security, it is vital that we educate and inspire the next generation of explorers to

pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.


Senator McCain’s statements about the Adler Planetarium’s request for federal support do

not accurately reflect the museum’s legislative history or relationship with Senator Obama.

The Adler has approached the Illinois Congressional delegation the last few years for federal

assistance with various initiatives. These have included museum exhibitions, equipment and

educational programs we offer to area schools, including the Chicago Public Schools.


We have made requests to Senators Durbin and Obama, as well as to 6 area Congressmen

from both political parties. We are grateful that all of the Members we have approached,

including Senator Obama, have deemed our activities worthy of their support, and have

made appropriations requests on our behalf, as they have for many worthy Illinois nonprofit



As a result of the hard work of our bipartisan congressional delegation, the Adler has been

fortunate to receive a few federal appropriations the past couple of years.


However, the Adler has never received an earmark as a result of Senator Obama’s efforts.

This is clearly evidenced by recent transparency laws implemented by the Congress, which

have resulted in the names of all requesting Members being listed next to every earmark in

the reports that accompany appropriations bills.


October 8, 2008