The Fleet Science Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary with the “Flashback” exhibition.

The world of cutting-edge science is usually future-oriented. But to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, the Fleet Science Center at Balboa Park is looking back in time.

An exhibit that opened on February 11 showcases some of the museum’s most popular hands-on exhibits over the past half-century. Flashback features five galleries themed around each decade of the center’s existence, from the 1970s to the 2010s.

The museum opened to the public on March 10, 1973. To celebrate the anniversary next week, the museum will return its admission prices March 10-14 to the original 1973 price of $2.50 for all guests.

More than 26 million ticket buyers have visited the fleet over the past 50 years. The museum now includes the exhibit halls, the state-of-the-art Heikoff Giant Dome Theater and STEM classrooms for local school children.

Fleet Science Center CEO Steven Snyder said the museum’s mission is “to create a San Diego where everyone is connected to the power of science.”

“Since 1973, Fleet’s work has been exciting, innovative and sometimes radical,” Snyder said in a statement. “As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Fleet Science Center on March 10, we will be celebrating this work and the Fleet’s commitment to San Diego’s future.”

A child hopscotch on a lighted plaque in the “Flashback” exhibit at the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.

(Courtesy of the Fleet Science Center)

The Flashback themed exhibition rooms have been decorated with the colors and styles of each decade and the music from that time. Along with the exhibits, “Flashback” provides a chronological history of the museum and how it has transformed over the years to keep up with changes in science, from early exhibits celebrating ancient scientific breakthroughs and inventions to the today’s virtual and augmented reality technology.

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Inside the 1970s gallery, visitors can see old exhibits like the Chaotic Pendulum I, Touch a Spring, and Dino Dig, as well as the Catenary Arch, where visitors can build an incredible arch using bent blocks and strength.

The 1980s Gallery includes the Stop Motion, Phenakistoscope, and You and Me exhibitions, as well as the Colored Shadows exhibition, which allows people to create prismatic shadows with their bodies.

In the “Flashback” exhibition at the Fleet Science Center, visitors used light to create colored shadows.

(Courtesy of the Fleet Science Center)

The gallery’s 1990s exhibits include “Einstein Seen,” “Waves in Motion,” and “Resolutions,” as well as “Sikus,” an exhibit that showed how sound can travel great distances through empty tubes, like the old-fashioned ear horn.

The 2000s gallery features the Tornado device, Turntable, Molecules in Motion, Hot and Cold, and the Os Cylinderscope, which uses a cylinder and a guitar to demonstrate how the strings move sound by vibration.

The Sikus exhibit, showing the force of sound conduction through metal pipes, is on view in the ’90s room of the Fleet Science Center’s “Flashback” exhibit.

(Courtesy of the Fleet Science Center)

The 2010 gallery includes the Tricorder X Prize, Hopscotch, Spin Chair, and the Augmented Reality Sandbox, a sandbox with overhead projections that turn sandhills into volcanoes and canals into rivers.

The fleet was developed in the 1960s by a physicist and engineer at the San Diego space company General Dynamics. They designed and built what was then a state-of-the-art planetarium, featuring a unique star projector and a sloping dome ceiling that could create a visual effect that mirrored the night sky.

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It was originally named the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in honor of the Point Loma aviation pioneer and former Army officer who founded the San Diego Aerospace Museum in 1961. RH Fleet died in 1975 and is buried in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. His son Preston Fleet and his family helped build the Fleet Museum.

To celebrate the museum’s 25th anniversary in 1998, it underwent a massive renovation and expansion that tripled its exhibition space and doubled the size of the center’s footprint. And in 2012, the dome theater was modernized with a new nanoseam ceiling, sound system and projection system.


Opening hours: daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Until June 14th.

Where: Fleet Science Center, 1875 El Prado, Balboa Park, San Diego

Tickets: $2.50 March 10-14; Regular prices range from $19.95 to $24.95

Phone: (619) 238-1233