The Marie Drake Planetarium

Where the stars always shine in Juneau, AK

History of the Marie Drake Planetarium
1964 to 2021

Written by Cristina Della Rosa based on records she could find.


  • Bill Overstreet became the Juneau School District's Superintendent. He presented to the school board the idea of adding a planetarium to the plans for the new Marie Drake Junior High School.


  • New Marie Drake Junior High School opened with a planetarium room sustaining a 30 foot dome with theater style concentric seating and a SPITZ star ball machine.The projector cost $36,000
  • The planetarium was the first in Alaska. It was built with the aid of a 50% federal matching grant under the terms of the National Defense Education Act. It is now the second largest planetarium in Alaska.
  • A full time teacher, Albert Shaw, was hired to teach school classes and give public presentations. His title was planetarium director. He went to two summer training in the lower 48. He developed a planetarium program for k-6th grades given in the planetarium. He also did programs for higher grade levels in their regular  classrooms. He also gave public presentations. The school district paid  his salary and the planetarium had budget for things such as instructional supplies.

1969 to 1975

  • Albert Shaw was planetarium Director until at least 1971.
  • Around this time the use of the planetarium fell and then died out. The room was converted into an additional classroom and storage room.

1976 to 1981

No record of any shows.

  • $2,000 obtained for Marie Drake from ESEA Title IV-C Teacher Incentive Initiative Grant.
  • 1,430 people were served, mostly elementary students.


  • Busy year with shows.
  • $5,409 obtained for Marie Drake Junior High School through an Education Consolidation and Improvement act (ECIA) chapter II block grant.  Title of project:  Planetarium Studies. The major expenditure was repair and maintenance of projector. Locking covers were also put on projector.

1985 to 1989

No record of any shows


  • Room being used as a computer room. A new Middle school was being built. A group of volunteers felt this would be an opportune time to try to re-establish the planetarium and use it for its original purpose.
  • In November the school board visited the planetarium and later volunteers made a presentation was to the school board to make more use of the planetarium.  See Juneau Empire article.
  • A group of volunteers got planetarium going again and started giving programs for the public and school classes.
  • School district allowed use of room and paid for electricity and janitorial work. Occasionally, the school district paid for maintenance e.g. starball repair.
  • November 23rd - grand opening held with two shows. Attendance 55 people.


  • November 13th -- a long Juneau Empire article published. "Stargazing, Juneau Style - Marie Drake's Planetarium Makes a Comeback" by Sherry Simpson.
  • Since 1991 planetarium has been a multi purpose room. It is used as a classroom and planetarium volunteers schedule using the space via Community Schools.


  • A wide variety of presentations with about 735 attendees .
  • Planetarium still used full time as a computer lab.
  • School board asked by letter, "when the district considers how to use the Marie Drake building as the result of the new middle school, we recommend the planetarium again become a designated place for astronomy education as a part of the science curriculum. If other activities need to share that space, they should be compatible with the planetarium needs."


  • 108 people signed a petition to the Juneau School District Board and Facilities Committee. "We, the undersigned Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium, recommend spending about $45,000 of the Marie Drake Building Remodeling bond funds to refurbish, restore, and equip the Marie Drake Planetarium to an extraordinary multi-purpose facility, upon completion of the new middle school. As indicated below, many of us have attended planetarium shows; we know first-hand the value of this facility and want these educational events to continue".
  • Two letters of support from the principal of Marie Drake Middle School and the School of Education, Liberal Arts and Science at UAS,
  • Planetarium volunteers lead a coalition and  write to Facilities Committee recommending spending $43,500-53,500 from the Marie Drake Middle School Remodeling bond funds to "refurbish, restore and equip the Marie Drake Planetarium as an extraordinary multi-purpose facility, upon the completion of the new middle school."  
  • Despite community support and documentation of planetarium's achievements, I do not think any money was allocated by JSD.
  • About 1,230 people attended public shows and about 695 attendees. for school classes and community group shows.


  • The Marie Drake Junior High School is replaced by a new middle school (DZ). The old school building is now called the Marie Drake Building. 


  • Michael Orelove starts volunteering at the planetarium. He becomes unofficial unpaid "director" in 2001.


  • Spitz maintenance person comes from Seattle in September.  Cost paid by Juneau School District. 
Summer Solstice (June 20) - Dedication of downtown community sundial.

Juneau Community Planet Walk created at Twin Lakes - Opening celebration September 1st. 

Tidal Gauge created at downtown dock.

United States Map created on downtown dock.

  • Very busy year at planetarium , but attendance unknown.
  • The Planetarium sign and logo created by Jesse Peterson. It is above the entrance to the Marie Drake building.
  • Michael Orelove moves to Gresham, OR where he continues to be active in the community, including various astronomy related projects. The webmaster is grateful for him for donating written materials which were very useful in documenting planetarium's history and event and show statistics.


  • In June, 2011 The Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium (FOMDP) was formed. The board had five members. its primary goal is to raise funds for a new digital projector to expand and improve our astronomy education programming.
  • Meet with JSD Superintendent - Dec. 13.


  • Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium recieve IRS non profit status. 


  • Planetarium has 360 people on email list
  • Facebook Page created. Marie Drake Planetarium.


  • Spitz Projector turned 50. 


  • Awarded $25,000 Rasmuson tier 1 grant.
  • Awarded $10,00 matching grant from the Juneau Community Foundation's Blackwell Fund These funds were matched in a month.
  • Held successful Digital Planetarium Week. Click here for details. Three educators from Museum of Flight came to Juneau and demonstrated a digital planetarium projector similar to the one we are fundraising to buy.. 
  • Several shows using portable planetarium borrowed from Girl Scouts.
  • Awarded $25,000 grant from Coeur Alaska - Kensington Mine.
  • Three large grants and other smaller contributions complete phase 3 or our 3 part fundraising plan. This enables us to buy a new planetarium system with the features and upgrades we wanted.
  • Board purchases a new Digitarium custom Lambda Projection System from Digitalis in Bremerton, WA
  • 440 Facebook likes and 800 people on our email list.
  • Board member attends 3 day Digitalis training.


  • New Digitalis Digitarium Lambda system set up in planetarium and board starts learning how to use it.
  • First four shows given to public using new system.
  • March 13th. Planetarium closed down due to Covid-19. All shows and events cancelled and no one allowed to use planetarium.
  • During closure, board members take online classes on using new digital system, how to giving planetarium shows and astronomy topics.
  • Part of new digital system taken offsite, so board members can continue to learn how to use it.


  • The planetarium remains closed due to covid-19 until early June. However, board allowed to use planetarium for training.
  • School district shows resumed in summer.
  • August, JSD developed Covid guides for having JSD and public live shows in planetarium.
  • Live public shows restarted in September..
  • Start doing two minute public radio segments relating to astronomy - mostly covering Juneau.


  • Organized virtual shows for JSD classes with Museum of Flight in Seattle for 2021 to 2022 and 2022 to 2024 school years.
  • Purchased SkyBox which enables us to program planetarium shows without being in the planetarium.
  • JSD classes came to planetarium. We focussed on 1st and 5th grade classes and matching their visit to science. curriculum.