Nov. 18, 2022 | Bill Zito

Since 1937, the Seymour Planetarium has been home to the “Korkosz Projector,” also known as the “the Starball.” The planetarium is the home of the oldest operating American-made planetarium projector in the world.
Photo Credit: Springfield Museums
SPRINGFIELD – For 85 years in Springfield, people have been able to look up at the stars at times when you couldn’t otherwise see them.
Discovering the wonders of the galaxy, to learning about exactly what it is you’re looking at in the sky, right down to tracking the disappearance of the dinosaurs – since 1937 the Seymour Planetarium has served as educator, entertainer and trainer to generations of people living in, around and visiting Springfield.
The city marks what’s called in some circles “the moonstone anniversary” for an attraction not many its size and prominence commonly offer.
Coincidentally, next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the invention of what’s considered the modern planetarium projector, manufactured in Germany by engineers with the Zeiss company in 1923.
A few of the larger American cities were fortunate enough to become home to those first projector systems in their own planetariums by the early 1930s.
And while New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia possessed the notoriety and the funds to purchase the machines of wonder, the city of Springfield was a community of more modest means, especially in the waning years of the Great Depression. So, the plan then became apparent that if Springfield could not buy a planetarium, they would build one and it came to brothers Frank and John Korkosz to do just that.
Frank, a technician at the Springfield Science Museum and his brother John, an electrical engineer who headed Chicopee’s electrical works, set about constructing what became known as the “Korkosz Projector” and also by its appearance, “the Starball.”
“They got together and just figured out how one of these contraptions ought to work,” said Kevin Kopchynski, STEM curator at the Seymour Planetarium.
“The parts [for the homemade projector] were made in trade schools and machine shops in the greater Springfield area and it first went into service in 1937 as only the second American-made planetarium in operation.
Today, the Seymour Planetarium remains home to the oldest operating American-made planetarium projector in the world.
The museum itself had been well-established prior to the opening of the planetarium, beginning as far back as 1857 with the formation of the City Library Association on to the founding of the Springfield Science Museum in 1859, housed in its current location in 1889 with additions and expansions occurring during the next century.
The “Korkosz Projector” soon became an asset to the U.S. military as during World War II the planetarium was used as a training facility for pilots learning celestial navigation. The educational tools became such a necessity for armed forces that both the Navy and the Air Force established and maintained their own observatories and planetariums.
“Pilots came and trained in the planetarium in order to be able to identify the stars,” said Kopchynski.
Over the years, some of the technology has, of course, advanced but many of the presentations have stayed true to the original concepts. Kopchynski said, “The first programs would have been pretty much somebody standing there, under the sky and under the stars, giving you a guided tour of what’s up there and we still do that today.”
The planetarium operation has progressed from recorded programs using a slide collection via multiple projectors into a computer-based assembly synching the audio and music soundtracks with the digitized images.
Presentations now feature video programs offering the elements in one computer-based setting that makes use of the historic “Starball,” introducing classes of Western Massachusetts schoolkids to the stars, constellations and planets through a very different kind of classroom.
As many structures are forced to close or limit hours during renovations or upgrades, Kopchynski said the planetarium’s only major closures took place during the coronavirus pandemic, despite the trading out and enhancement of technological components.
The longevity of not only the unique equipment involved but the significance of the intelligence and information it provides to this day is well stated not only in the perseverance of the Seymour Planetarium and its Korkosz projector, but in the model it’s based upon.
The Zeiss Planetarium in Jena, Germany, which opened in July of 1926, remains the oldest continuously operating apparatus of its kind in the world.
Next year, in the centennial of the Zeiss invention, the Seymour Planetarium will be taking possession of a Zeiss of its very own. The new system will enhance the audio and video presentations and variety of programs while working alongside the Korkosz brothers Starball projector.
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