By M.M. Cloutier
Special to the Daily News
In 1964, NASA dispatched an astronaut to Palm Beach County to preside over the ribbon-cutting of a then-new planetarium at a museum now known as the South Florida Science Center & Aquarium.
The astronaut NASA sent was none other than Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.
By the time Aldrin, in 1970, headlined a rededication of the West Palm Beach planetarium named after him, he had become one of the first humans to walk on the moon as part of NASA’s 1969 Apollo 11 mission, the first manned lunar landing.
Back then, Aldrin’s association with the planetarium was a big leap for the then-fledgling science facility that included it.
The facility was founded in 1959 by the Junior League of the Palm Beaches and it opened Oct. 21, 1961, as the Junior Museum.
Among the first exhibits: a rocket engine and a showcase devoted to the late architect Addison Mizner.
Over the ensuing decades, the grassroots Junior Museum — renamed during the 1970s and ’80s as the Science Center & Planetarium of Palm Beach County and then the South Florida Science Museum — would mushroom exponentially in size and scope.
Now, after years of numerous multimillion-dollar expansions and improvements, today’s South Florida Science Center & Aquarium (sfsciencecenter.org), 4801 Dreher Trail N., features more than 50 hands-on educational exhibits, an 8,000-gallon fresh-and-saltwater aquarium, a digital planetarium, a conservation-research station, a Florida exhibits hall, an interactive Everglades exhibit and more.
This month’s debut of the center’s newly renovated and expanded Hall of Discovery marks the first of two West Wing improvement projects. The two-phase rehabilitation is a continuation of the center’s $5 million expansion in 2013.
Later this year, the South Florida Science Center & Aquarium is slated to open an 18-hole miniature golf course, among other things.