Starlight Geek

Multigenerational Space Geekiness


My love of astronomy and the night sky comes directly from my father. His original career of choice for post-undergrad was an astronomer. However, after meeting my mother, he decided to go to law school so that he could be home in the evenings and at night. (As you might imagine, astronomers do not keep regular business hours.) He kept his love of astronomy alive, though, and passed it on to me.

One of my earliest memories is of Halley’s Comet (9 February, 1986). My parents took me out and tipped my stroller back so I could gaze up at the bright smudge in the sky without hurting my neck. My dad told me to remember this, because I might just be lucky enough to live to see it and remember it twice in one lifetime. The next appearance will be in July 2061; I will be 79 years old.

Halley's Comet 1986

Halley’s Comet

For many years, I desperately wanted to be an astronaut. (To be honest, I still do.) I memorized the space shuttle operator’s manual, flew every simulation program I could get my hands on, and planned on going into aerospace engineering. I studied Russian in my spare time so that I could communicate with cosmonauts and read anything in the MIR capsule. My father and I even built a large Dobsonian-style telescope my senior year. ( ⅓ meter/13.1 inch mirror, 4.5 focal length; it stands taller than me, I can’t wrap my arms around the body, and it assembles/disassembles in five minutes.)

Whenever we went to Florida to visit my (paternal) grandparents, my folks would give me a choice: we could go to one big thing for one day on each visit. This meant Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios, or Kennedy Space Center. It will not come as much of a surprise that in all our visits, I picked Universal Studios once, Disney once, and Kennedy Space Center over a dozen times.

Liftoff of Space Shuttle Endeavour

Liftoff of Space Shuttle Endeavour

My grandparents had a view of Cape Canaveral from their home; my grandmother was standing at the kitchen sink and washing dishes while she watched the launch (and explosion) of the Challenger. My grandfather frequently went to launches and took photos. Alas, I do not have any of these photos at-hand, but hopefully someday soon, I may.

My grandfather — for whom I was named — passed a few years ago. Today, my mother forwarded me an email he sent on 20 January, 2000 about the lunar eclipse.

It’s a beautifully clear cool night here. A few minutes ago we witnessed the launch
of an Atlas rocket from our front yard. It was carrying a military satellite into orbit and was launched from Cape Kennedy. The sky first turned  yellow-orange, then we saw the rocket rise ever so slowly trailing a bright red flame. we were able to watch it for over five minutes, then the flame disappeared  as the rocket crossed the face of the full moon.
The moon seems huge and shortly, beginning at 9:05,  it will enter the earth’s
penumbra. By 11:00 PM the moon  will be totally eclipsed and should still be visible with the earth-shine turning it reddish.
When I was a kid Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon were my comic book  heroes, but they seemed to be so far into the future, in my wildest dreams I never expected to see such adventures as we’re being treated to today. What a great time to be alive and to witness such accomplishments !
It’s almost 9 o’clock now, so gotta run & watch the eclipse.
Much love,
The “we” he refers to is him and his sister, my great-aunt.
It was a welcome reminder that being a space enthusiast (and comic book geek!) is a multi-generational thing in my family.

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