The Hubs and I were looking for things to do over the weekend that didn’t involve a mall (but would still have air conditioning, lol) so like the true nerds we are, we ended up at the National Planetarium (Planetarium Negara) in Kuala Lumpur. My last visit here was solo, and it was almost seven years ago. How time flies!
Good news? Even after all this time, entrance to the planetarium is still free. Considering how much it would cost to maintain the place and keep it running, I think this is a very generous initiative by our Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment.
Video of us mucking about. Subscribe if you haven’t already!
Most of the exhibits are the same from my previous visit, with a couple of additions. Most notable among them is the “Anti-Gravity Room”. It’s not really ‘anti-gravity’ in that you float around or anything like that, but is more an optical illusion that messes with your balance. Because the chamber is tilted, our brains are unable to process if it’s our body or the items that are supposed to be standing straight – creating a sense of imbalance. The deep blue lighting also adds to the illusion.
Malaysia had this whole space fever thing in the late 1990s to early 2000s, the pinnacle of which probably involved sending our first (and to date, only) cosmonaut into space on a Russian space exploration mission.
Sadly, I don’t think there have been many updates in terms of new tech/achievements in space science for the country (or at least, that I am aware of) – and this is reflected in the exhibits at the Planetarium. The takeaway that I would have gotten visiting the planetarium in 2008 would have been exactly the same as what I would get today. In a sense, the museum itself is kind of like a ‘time capsule’, a relic of the massive potential, but unrealized hopes and dreams of a nation.
One thing I do appreciate is that they have Braille for some of the exhibits, so PWDs can enjoy them too.
Not sure if it’s a replica (I’m guessing it is, because guests can touch it), but one of the exhibits features the Campo del Cielo, which is a group of iron meteorites that were found in Argentina, believed to date back 4,200 to 4,700 years ago.
The same periodic table of elements exhibit that was here all those years ago when I first visited: with the addition of some interactive quizzes that you can play on the screens.
Sample of an astronaut suit. There’s a section here dedicated to Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor – the first Malaysian in space. Sheikh apparently brought Sudirman songs to listen to while on board the Soyuz TMA-11 to the International Space Station. Because he’s Muslim, our religious authorities also came up with a handbook on how to pray in space, including how to determine the direction of Mecca.
The Ariadne engine, which was used to propel Malaysia’s first satellite (MEASAT) into space, is the highlight of the Planetarium’s exhibitions.
Space can smell like raspberries. Trivia to tell your friends at your next gathering. But when I do it people stare at me like I have 3 heads, so do so at your own risk.
Another major highlight at the planetarium is the ‘Space Pod’, which is meant to ‘simulate a ride in space’. Personally, I feel that it’s more of a theme park ride, but hey, whatever keeps people interested and coming. PS: This is a paid experience so you have to shell out RM12+ for it. (I think it was RM12, can’t recall the exact price).
I wasn’t looking properly during my last visit, but I just realized the English displays are atrocious.
The Planetarium covers about 11,000 sq feet of space, and there’s an observation tower where you can view the surroundings. Unfortunately this was closed during our visit, so we forked out RM12 per pax to watch a science show in the auditorium instead. This is a theatre with a massive dome-shaped screen, where they play shows in large format. It was a 30-minute presentation on moon, earth and the sun, geared towards families as there were many cartoons and animations incorporated. N and I ended up falling asleep because the dark theatre was like a cozy cocoon and the seats were slightly reclined lol.
All in all, the visit was enjoyable – but I still left slightly disappointed at the quality of the exhibits. There’s potential, but it’s a far cry from a world-class attraction, and if this is meant to stimulate younger children to gain an interest in space science and technology, let’s just say I don’t think there would be any future astronauts saying “I became an astronaut after my interest was piqued from a visit to the Planetarium”.
That isn’t to say that the trip isn’t worth it. Not many countries in ASEAN have their own public facilities dedicated to space science, and although the National Planetarium is a bit dated, it’s still a fun and relatively engaging experience, especially for families with children. Beats going to the mall anyway. Best of all? It’s free.
PLANETARIUM NEGARA (NATIONAL PLANETARIUM)
Jalan Perdana, Tasik Perdana, 50480 Kuala Lumpur
Opening hours: Daily 9am – 430pm (closed on Mondays)
Phone: 03-2273 4301