John McCain accused Barack Obama of a seemingly outlandish request for Chicago's planetarium during the second presidential debate Tuesday, saying that the Democratic candidate backed a "$3 million [earmark] for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Ill. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?"
The AP fact-checked the claim:
McCain's phrase suggests Obama spent $3 million on an old-fashioned piece of office equipment that projects charts and text on a wall screen. In fact, the money was for an overhaul of the theater system that projects images of stars and planets for educational shows at Chicago's Adler Planetarium. When he announced the $3 million earmark last year, Obama said the planetarium's 40-year-old projection system "has begun to fail, leaving the theater dark and groups of school students and other interested museum-goers without this very valuable and exciting learning experience."
But McCain's remark was enough to make Adler Planetarium officials issue a statement defending the scientific validity of the request:
To clarify, the Adler Planetarium requested federal support - which was not funded - to
replace the projector in its historic Sky Theater, the first planetarium theater in the
Western Hemisphere. The Adler's Zeiss Mark VI projector - not an overhead projector - is
the instrument that re-creates the night sky in a dome theater, the quintessential
planetarium experience. The Adler's projector is nearly 40 years old and is no longer
supported with parts or service by the manufacturer. It is only the second planetarium
projector in the Adler's 78 years of operation.
Science literacy is an urgent issue in the United States. To remain competitive and ensure
national security, it is vital that we educate and inspire the next generation of explorers to
pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Senator McCain's statements about the Adler Planetarium's request for federal support do
not accurately reflect the museum's legislative history or relationship with Senator Obama.
Sen. Dick Durbin and six Chicago-area Congressman, three of whom are Republicans, also agreed to sponsor the unsuccessful $3 million earmark.
Planetariums in New York and Los Angeles recently replaced their Zeiss projection systems with federal funding, the Tribune reports.