The world of cutting-edge science is usually focused on the future. But to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park is looking to the past.

An exhibition that opened Feb. 11 features some of the museum’s most popular hands-on exhibits from the past half-century. “Flashback” features five galleries themed to each decade of the center’s existence, from the 1970s to the 2010s.

The museum opened to the public on March 10, 1973. To mark the anniversary next week, the museum will roll back its ticket prices March 10-14 to their original 1973 price of $2.50 for all guests.

More than 26 million ticket-buyers have visited the Fleet over the past 50 years. The museum today includes the exhibit halls, the state-of-the-art Heikoff Giant Dome Theatre and STEM classrooms for local school children.

Fleet Science Center CEO Steven Snyder said the museum’s mission is “to realize a San Diego where everyone is connected to the power of science.”

“Since 1973, the work of the Fleet has been exciting, innovative and, at times, radical,” Snyder said in a statement. “As we celebrate the Fleet Science Center’s 50th anniversary on March 10 and throughout the year ahead, we will highlight this work and the Fleet’s commitment to the future of San Diego.”

The “Flashback” themed exhibit rooms have been decorated with the colors and styles of each decade and music from that era. Along with the exhibits, “Flashback” offers a chronological history of the museum and how it has transformed over the years to keep up with changes in science, from early exhibits that celebrated ancient scientific breakthroughs and inventions to today’s virtual and augmented reality technology.

In the 1970s gallery, visitors can see old exhibits like the “Chaotic Pendulum I,” “Touch a Spring” and “Dino Dig,” as well as the “Catenary Arch,” where visitors can use curved blocks to build an arch of incredible strength.

The 1980s gallery includes the “Stop Motion,” “Phenakistoscope” and “You and Me” exhibits, as well as the “Colored Shadows” exhibit, where people can create prismatic shadows with their bodies.

The 1990s gallery exhibits include “Einstein Seen,” “Waves in Motion” and “Resolutions exhibits,” as well as the “Sikus,” an exhibit that showed how sound could travel great distances through empty pipes, like the old-fashioned ear horn.

The 2000s gallery has the “Tornado” device, “Turntable,” “Molecules in Motion,” “Hot and Cold” and the “Oscylinderscope,” which uses a cylinder and a guitar to demonstrate how the strings make sound through vibration.

The 2010s gallery includes the “Tricorder X Prize,” “Hopscotch,” “Spin Chair” and the “Augmented Reality Sandbox,” which is a sandbox with overhead projections that turn sand mounds into volcanoes and channels into rivers.

The Fleet was dreamed up in the 1960s by a physicist and engineer from the San Diego space contractor General Dynamics. They designed and built a then-state-of-the-art planetarium with a first-of-its-kind star projector and a tilted domed ceiling that could create a visual effect that mirrored the night sky.

It was originally named the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, in honor of the aviation pioneer and former Army officer from Point Loma who founded the San Diego Aerospace Museum in 1961. R.H. Fleet died in 1975 and is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. His son, Preston Fleet, and his family helped underwrite the construction of the Fleet museum.

On the occasion of the museum’s 25th anniversary in 1998, it underwent a massive renovation and expansion that tripled its exhibit space and doubled the size of the center’s footprint. And in 2012, the dome theater was modernized with a new Nanoseam ceiling, sound system and projection system.



Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Through June 14.

Where: Fleet Science Center, 1875 El Prado, Balboa Park, San Diego

Tickets: $2.50 from March 10-14; regular prices are $19.95-$24.95

Phone: (619) 238-1233


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