This week marks a key milestone for Philadelphia’s The Franklin Institute with the premiere of “To Space & Back” — the most technologically advanced show ever presented in the Fels Planetarium.

Co-written and produced by The Franklin Institute’s Chief Astronomer and Planetarium Director Derrick Pitts, “To Space & Back” explores how everyday lives are directly impacted by technology developed for space exploration.

“Every time we use GPS, look at images of the earth from space on computers or even use our smartphones to connect with friends and family, we’re using technologies developed for space applications or connecting directly to satellites in orbit,” Pitts said. “‘To Space & Back’ allows us to engage audiences of all ages in the realization of the many ways in which space exploration impacts us.”

To a family-friendly crowd, Pitts explained that the show was designed to involve some of the out-there-stuff to connect with the audience, allowing for a broad range of experiences.

A historic cornerstone to museum, the Fels Planetarium continues to spring forward in technology standards and advancement. 

Nearly 80 years since the 1933 opening of the Planetarium, The Franklin Institute debuted the first full dome show ever. This film was produced by The Franklin Institute, in partnership with Sky-Skan, the world’s leading manufacturer of immersive digital theaters.

Sky-Skan content distributor Judy Delude saw “To Space & Back” with her daughter, Amanda.  

“We drove 5 hours to celebrate the premiere at The Franklin Institute,” Amanda Delude said. “I thought it was well done and very educational. I never realized how much space technology is involved in everyday life and medicine.”

As a child, Amanda Delude recalls watching shooting stars across the sky, but never imagined what was in space and beyond until now.

Innovations such as alternative water purification systems and energy sources, turbine blades, home insulation, improvements in car safety and better fuel efficiency are all a result of space research and exploration, and all have directly impacted modern life. 

“To Space & Back” is a completely engaging experience showcasing the most advanced Planetarium technology.  The show is narrated by BBC’s Top Gear host James May, and includes scenes shot right in Philadelphia.  

To Space & Back Producer Annette Sotheran-Barnett credits the 28-minute show to contributing to a greater understanding and appreciation of space exploration.

“The purpose of the film is to reach 12 to 14-year-olds and connect what they do on earth with space,” Sotheran-Barnett said.

“To Space & Back” is being distributed worldwide, and will soon debut at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore; Melbourne Victoria Museum in Melbourne, Australia; New Jersey State Museum in Trenton; Tellus Museum in Cartersville, GA; Vanderbilt Planetarium in Centerport, NY and SongAm Space Center, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea.

Located in the heart of Philadelphia, The Franklin Institute is a renowned and innovative leader in the field of science and technology learning, as well as a dynamic center of activity. Pennsylvania’s most visited museum, it is dedicated to creating a passion for learning about science by offering access to hands-on science education.

“To Space & Back” runs daily in the Fels Planetarium.  General museum admission includes one Planetarium show.  For more information, please visit


Matthew Ross Smith experienced an up close and intimate view of Alzheimer’s disease during while spending time with his beloved grandfather, William B. McNamee. It was an emotional time for Smith.“We have a close family,” he said. “As my grandfather began to change, it was important for him to share his life experiences with me. We became close because of the illness. I vividly recall him telling me that every day the world was full of more strangers – I think he was afraid we would become strangers, and we did.

“It was important for him to pass on his stories to me so I could share them with others. We purposely took walks so my grandfather could talk and share his wisdom with me.”

If you knew your time was short, and you could share with the world one piece of advice, what would it be? That is the question Smith, an adjunct writing professor in Drexel University’s Goodwin College and College of Arts and Sciences, has asked more than 5,000 people across the country.

The endeavor, called the Spaces Between Your Fingers (SBYF) project, was inspired by Smith’s grandfather, a WWII veteran who struggled with Alzheimer’s disease. As the disease progressed, it became increasingly important for McNamee to make connections and share his experiences.

Smith decided to collect these memories and bits of wisdom from others as well, offering people a chance to reflect, create and connect.

In 2009, Smith traveled across the country, handing out over-sized, self-addressed, stamped postcards to whomever he encountered in parks, libraries and other public spaces along the way.

He instructed the strangers to trace their handprints onto the cards—a unique “handprint signature”—and to write a single piece of advice in the space between the outlines of their fingers.

“The unifying theme of the project is connection—connection of hands, connection of strangers, connection between generations,” Smith said. “If everyone contributes just one vivid handful of experience—what you’ve learned from being in love, or in combat, or a student, or a farmer—we’ll create a rich, meaningful mosaic of what it’s like to be human.”

The grassroots SBYF project has grown into a community art initiative with the mission of sharing wisdom between strangers and generations, and raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

Smith will host a Wisdom Workshop at Drexel University on June 1 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Creese Student Center’s Behrakis Grand Hall at 32nd and Chestnut streets. The event is free and open to the public.

Smith hopes to attract as diverse a group as possible in age, gender, race, background and education to gather in small groups and respond to prompts and questions, tell stories and share experiences. Visit for more information.

On the project’s Website, visitors can watch an interactive video about the project, read the “Secret of the Spaces Between Your Fingers” digital storybook and submit their own words of wisdom. The site also includes materials to encourage teachers to run “Wisdom Workshops” in their classrooms.

Through this journey Smith has realized a new life passion of storytelling.

“Being able to facilitate and tell a story that encourages others to share is a pretty cool thing to have on a business card,” he said. “I am glad this project is becoming a huge part of my life.”

While most college seniors are focused on final exams or securing post-college employment, L. Jeff Shafer II is committed to inspiring his peers to achieve their hopes and dreams.Shafer, a senior business administration major at Drexel University, recently hosted the event, Entrepreneurship and Motivation. In the two years leading up to the event, Shafer wore multiple hats including funding solicitor, organizer, promoter, host and emcee.

Shafer does not see himself as an entrepreneur, but several chance meetings and conversations in 2010 led to an idea that is now a reality.

“I learned so much in putting on this event,” he said. “I learned how hard it is to take an idea and turn it into reality.

“It takes a lot of effort, a lot of resources and a good team of people,” Shafer added. “This event required contributions from many people. I was able to receive help with the flyer design, a commercial promoting the event, the actual program, marketing material and audio and video setup.”

Troubled by the current economic crisis and state of unemployment and underemployment with recent college graduates, Shafer decided to do something about this.

“The journey started back in 2010,” he said. “My mother and I met Sirena Moore-Thomas – president of Elohim Cleaning Contractors, radio talk show host, author and speaker – at a networking event.

“I thought that she would be a great person to bring to Drexel to share her story,” Shafer added. “Around this time, I also crossed paths with author, speaker, Morehouse valedictorian and Harvard Law School alumnus Darrell Bennett in a very random way.”

Shafter stumbled upon Bennett’s YouTube video and was impressed and encouraged by what he heard.

It was that moment in time that Shafer’s thoughts shifted to a vision for one event with Moore-Thomas and Bennett.

His goal was to bring an entrepreneurial discussion with an inspiring and uplifting message to his peers.

Shafer defines an entrepreneur as someone who takes initiative and takes calculated risks.

He also felt that learning from others who have overcome struggles and achieved success in starting a business was a great way to minimize the risks.

Imani Nia Rutledge met Shafer while singing with him on Drexel’s Gospel Choir.

“Jeff shared his vision with me two years ago while waiting near a shuttle stop,” Rutledge said. “I admire his integrity and dedication. He does not only seek to gain personal success but to help others achieve success as well.

“At his core he is a humble servant and incorporates his personal faith into all he does,” she added. “This is what I believe drives him to help others, and what makes him such a great person.”

Rutledge has been to events about entrepreneurship before but this one was unique in its style. “Jeff designed this event to focus on empowerment, motivation and overcoming obstacles to success,” she said. “I felt like I could relate to their situations and actually create my own business after that workshop. I now believe that I can overcome the obstacles in my life that I thought were preventing me from building my business.”

For entrepreneur Ayeesha Crawford, she enjoyed being able to connect with like-minded individuals and gain a wealth of knowledge to help advance her business, Eden Holistic Health.

“I believe it is important to not only surround yourself with the best, but to seek advice from entrepreneurs with a ‘been-there-done-that’ experience,” she said. “The transparency of two speakers was not only effective but appreciated.”