The task was to build the world's largest solar system model on virtually no budget. Four years later, through the generosity and hard work of hundreds of volunteers, the Maine Solar System Model is getting ready for its grand opening on Saturday, June 14, 2003. Senator Susan Collins, as well as other dignitaries from NASA and the Planetary Society, will be on hand to help with the celebration, which begins at 1 p.m.

The three-dimensional roadside model, built to the scale of one mile to the astronomical unit, can be seen along a 40-mile stretch of Route 1 from Presque Isle to Houlton in Aroostook County, Maine. All the components, except Pluto and the Sun, are viewable from a car as people travel the road. The Sun is housed in the Northern Maine Museum of Science at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, and Pluto is in a case at the Houlton Information Center at the end of I-95.

Without any major grant funding, hundreds of volunteers provided the labor and resources to create this model--so many volunteers that the total comes close to being 1% of Aroostook County's population. Twelve educational institutions, from a university and technical college, to regional schools and Loring Job Corps, were involved in creating planets, posts, cement bases, foundations, and landscaping. Local people donated land, funds, materials, and construction equipment to create the sites for the planets, as well as thousands of volunteer hours to put them in place. The major coordinator for the project is Kevin McCartney, a professor of geology at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Kevin took the solar system model idea and found a willing community ready to create something with essentially no money.

The official ceremony will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 14, with comments from Senator Collins and Wesley Huntress, the director of the Planetary Society and former NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science. During his time with NASA, Dr. Huntress was responsible for the nation's planetary exploration program from 1990 to 1998, and, in this role, he commissioned the Solar System model that is on the Washington D.C. Mall. Also, Bill Brewer, a psychology professor who has visited many existing solar system models, will shed some light on how the Maine Solar System Model compares to others he has seen. The ceremony will end with a simultaneous rocket launching from each of the sites.

With little effort, the project has garnered national attention being featured in Air & Space, the March edition of Smithsonian, the AAA Northern New England Journey, and an interview on NPR's Living on Earth, heard on public radio stations across the country. The model has also been mentioned in several scientific journals, various out of state and foreign newspapers, local news media, as well as Maine Public Radio.

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