Hong Kong Space Museum 'out of date'

Exhibits in city's popular space showpiece are more than 20 years out of date and renovations are not expected to be completed until 2015

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 September, 2012, 10:16am

While China is sending people into orbit, the Hong Kong Space Museum is more like a trip back in time.

Some of the information in the exhibition halls is more than 20 years out of date and many recent events don't even rate a mention.

Only last month, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying welcomed a delegation including the astronauts who successfully completed the Tiangong-I/Shenzhou IX docking mission.

He said the achievement heralded a new chapter in China's aerospace history.

Meanwhile, the museum on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront is showing exhibits that were conceived in the 1980s.

Some of the signs even refer to events that "are expected to happen in the 1990s".

The Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990, is referred to as a "future possibility" when for almost two decades it has been transmitting breathtaking images of deep space that have changed our understanding of the universe.

And while the world is abuzz with talk of the Nasa rover Curiosity and its discoveries on Mars, the museum does not even mention the first automated motor vehicles to successfully land on the red planet, Spirit and Opportunity, in 2003.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), which oversees the museum, says renovation plans are in the pipeline.

But it said the public cannot expect to see the results until the end of 2015 at best.

This is despite that fact that the LCSD's finance committee approved the HK$32 million budget to renovate the exhibition halls in 2008.

"We needed time to discuss the topic and research in-house," said LCSD assistant director Louis Ng Chi-wa. "We are aware of the problem, but we have to go through the processes."

Dr Ng said in August this year an overseas firm was contracted to put forward design proposals and these are expected to be completed by next summer.

The contract for the renovation project will then be put up for tender. "I hope that we can finish the renovation work by the end of 2015," he said.

When the Space Museum opened in 1980 it was the best in the region and featured the first Omnimax film projector in the eastern hemisphere.

In 1991 the exhibition halls were given a HK$17.7 million facelift and were renamed "Hall of Space Science" and "Hall of Astronomy".

Now, more than 20 years on, the exhibits look shabby and omit key landmarks in space exploration.

But despite the outdated exhibits, visitor numbers are high. In 2009-2010, 375,200 visited the exhibition halls and that number climbed to 403,253 last year.

Dr Chau Hoi-fung, associate professor at Hong Kong University and one of the museum's science advisers, attributes the high visitor numbers partly to the excellent position on Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. "It's in a prime location and is doing a fantastic job within its budget, but it isn't a typical self-financing museum," he said.

Revenue from ticket sales - HK$10 for adults - goes directly to the government and the museum must pitch for budgets for renovations and special projects.

"We have been writing supportive letters to fight the government bureaucracy," said Dr Chau.

Some of the museum's other facilities have flourished. In 2001 it secured HK$2.5 million from the government's Quality Education Fund to build an Interactive Observatory that could be controlled via the internet.

In 2009, the planetarium was reopened after a HK$34 million renovation.

And in 2010, the Sai Kung Astropark was opened. It is just the two exhibition halls that seem to have been left in the dark.