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Barack Obama's $3 Million 'Overhead Projector' Actually Pretty Cool

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During the last Presidential debate, John McCain delivered this line about his opponent with withering contempt:

[Obama] voted for nearly a billion dollars in pork barrel earmark projects, including, by the way, $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois.

I'm already tired of hearing these guys talk, but that caught my ear. A $3 million projector? What does that even look like? Gearlog did some digging and found out that the appropriation was requested by the planetarium to replace an awesome (but obsolete) 40-year old Zeiss Mark VI star projector with a newer model (pictured above).Anyone with a planetarium in town will remember the Mark VI from school field trips: the 2.5 ton, 1350 watt giant (pictured below) can project a dynamic image of thousands of stars and constellations onto the ceiling of a massive dome for the viewing pleasure of a reclined audience. Its replacement would have been much more impressive, had it been granted: the Universarium Model IX, which is a $3.5 million astronomical projection unit capable of accurately representing a night sky in full color and motion. The proposal never got anywhere for a variety of reasons, but politics aside, that's not exactly your school's transparency projector. You can check out the spec sheet at Zeiss's official site. Model IX photo from Picassa user Lito [Gearlog, NYT]