University Lowbrow Astronomers

Why Astronomy Part II.

by Mark S Deprest
Printed in Reflections: December, 2010.

Mark Deprest

If you are older than 30 you’ve been exposed to at least some of the what historians refer to as: “The Space Race”. Some of us found inspiration in this and followed that to physics, engineering, computers, rocketry, and even astronomy. Now some of you chose to push yourselves and make your professions in these areas and some of you follow them as hobbies. Whatever the case, “the space race” and ensuing explorations of space have touch all of our lives in some way.

A number of our members credit this period of history as their stimulus toward astronomy, that spark that ignites the fire of desire, the desire to learn more. Norbert Vance of EMU found inspiration in the “space program” and that led him to a career in teaching astronomy. This is the second part of an on-going series of articles inspired by Norbert Vance’s exercise, that he started at our July meeting; where he told his story and then passed out 3 x 5 cards and asked that the attendees write down what inspired them. These cards were then collected and handed over to me as newsletter fodder. After a couple of months reading them over, I noted a pattern and I sorted them into groups. This article is group #2, The Space Program ... and the following are some of the comments of “Why Astronomy”.

The Apollo program and moon landings were very exciting times and one of our rank wrote that John Glenn orbited the Earth on their birthday, and so they started to follow the space program, and especially all of the Apollo launches and ensuing missions. (I don’t want to burst their bubble but I doubt that John Glenn knew it was their birthday).

David Shindell, found a certain inspiration while following the US space program starting with the Gemini missions and ending with the moon landings. His interest also include the classic instrument designs of antique telescopes.

Take a keen interest in the Apollo Program, follow it very carefully, add that to the multiple visits to the Abrams Planetarium in East Lansing, and Dave Snyder found that astronomy was a hobby that piqued and nurtured his mind.

As far back as memory will serve Doug Washow was interested in astronomy and space travel (he thinks “maybe even before exiting the womb”). As a 4 year old he saw “2001: A Space Odyssey” and realized that those monkeys weren’t the same as the “flying monkeys” in the Wizard of Oz. He remembers watching Apollo 8 and Apollo 11, thinking some day I want to grow up and be an Astrophysisist... we are still waiting...

Jim Forrester found part of his inspiration while watching satellites on the beaches of Lake Huron late at night. As a younger version of himself he followed the the Mercury, Gemini & Apollo manned space flights and took note of the constellations during his cub scout days.

I am sure that many more of us can trace out interests in astronomy to “The Space Race” and many of us still feel a thrill at every launch, marvel at the technological breakthroughs that have come out of NASA, ESO, JPL, FKA & RKA, and find ourselves looking up at the night sky wishing we could travel there too!

Part III of “Why Astronomy” will deal with those who had some sort of formal education in the astronomical sciences, if you fit into this category drop me a breif description of that and I’ll include it in the next part. Part IV will include those who got hooked on astronomy from some type of media, ie, books, TV or movies. Part V we’ll see who got their kick from their first telscope and then I will conclude this series with two stories that defy categorization (these are very good... just wait!). Thank you all who filled out those little 3 x 5s and thank you again Norbert for passing them along.


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