Sales and stars

Normally a place for stargazing and learning about humans’ place in the universe, the Marie Drake Planetarium was used instead on Saturday for a charity fundraiser — although talk of space and astronauts still occurred.

“I kissed an astronaut once,” Cristina Della Rosa said while walking around the planetarium room filled with tables that were covered with dollar items. Della Rosa is president of the nonprofit Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium (FOMDP). When asked which astronaut she kissed, she said “I don’t know. Let me ask my husband.”

Her husband, Steve Kocsis, is also a FOMDP board member who often hosts hour-long presentations about various scientific topics, preluded by a star show via an analog projector. (He eventually reminded Della Rosa that she kissed Marcos Cesar Pontes, Brazil’s first astronaut).

Kocsis and Della Rosa, both strong supporters of building community interest in astronomy, both said although the school’s projector is older, it does have great precision. It’s major limitation is what it can actually show — only the stars seen from earth. A newer digital projector, which runs upwards of $25,000, could display systems throughout our galaxy.

That’s where the garage sale comes in.

Della Rosa said she doesn’t expect that one or two garage sales could get them where they need to be financially (they plan on also applying for a Rasmussen grant), but the garage sale has a second purpose — reminding people that Juneau has a planetarium.

“People who have lived her for 20 years or so, they’ll say they didn’t even know there was a planetarium in town,” Della Rossa said.

That’s an unpleasant thought for her. Well, that and the thought of people grouping the study of astronomy with astrology (she calls astrology the A-word). But Della Rossa and her husband continue on, determined to get more people to see the big picture that astronomy is for everyone.

“We haven’t gone to the moon for many, many years and now private industries are getting into space exploration,” Della Rosa said. “There is probably going to be, in our kids’ generation, someone who lands again on the moon, or Mars, or just more exploration of space. And it’s going to create a lot of jobs. Only a handful of people get to be astronauts, and behind their glory there are people who design suits, food, rockets and people who design buildings to build the rockets inside of.”

The endless possibilities for the next generation of space explorers is a topic that Della Rosa gets excited about. Spreading that excitement, along with trying to sell $1 copies of classical records composed by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla y Matheu, is what Della Rossa said the garage sale and FOMDP are about. The group would like to include more child-focused activities throughout the year, but the board needs more volunteers with a passion for educating young minds, she said. As long as it has nothing to do with the A-word, Della Rosa wants people to think of the FOMDP group as a place for people to explore.

Half of all of the proceeds from Saturday’s garage sale will go toward the new projector fund, and the other half will be donated to the national Alzheimer’s Association.

People interested in learning more about Juneau’s planetarium can visit The next planetarium show will be at 7 p.m. on Sept. 20, hosted by University of Alaska Southeast adjunct professor Rosemary Walling. The topic will be “A Place for Life Beyond Earth,” with a discussion about a newly discovered planet in the Proxima Centauri solar system that could harbor life. The presentation is free, but donations will be accepted.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or

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