Three planetariums engaged in astronaut training. Morehead
was the trailblazer and chief among them, claiming all but one of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts on our list alumni, with fifteen years’ of contracts with NASA to back up the claim. The other two planetariums include Griffith Observatory’s Samuel Oschin Planetarium
and the Burke Baker Planetarium
in Houston. (Where else?)
This trip affords me the chance to visit one of those: Griffith. I’ll interview historian Tony Cook to put their astronaut training program in context alongside Tony Jenzano’s innovative program at Morehead. Already noteworthy from phone discussions with Cook: Griffith Observatory trained Chuck Yeager and his squadron, plus dozens (hundreds?) of other World War II pilots.
My second stop is The Museum of Planetarium Projectors, but why? See the picture above? It’s only two hours’ drive from Griffith, so how could I not? And it’s for sale, so investors should take note.
After both visits and interviews, I’ll be sure to report the most interesting discoveries I unearth. Meantime, wish me luck with my fifteen-hour driving day.
Todd Boyette (above, far right) is Director of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. Today, he sent me a memorandum of understanding regarding my writing projects.
It may not sound particularly exciting, but what it says is this: I have his, and MPSC’s, full support on my research and writing projects. The support even includes funding for travel to meet with astronauts, astronaut trainers, full access to all archives, and assistance from any and all staff in pursuit of my efforts.
I’m taking that day off to spend with Captain Jim Lovell. I’ll have lunch with him, attend his press conference, attend his VIP meet & greet, then attend his lecture.
Guess I’m watching Apollo 13 with the family tomorrow night.
Yesterday, I spent time with Jim Horn, the man who was hired to maintain the Zeiss VI planetarium star projector you see above. (This is a photo I took in 1994 in the Morehead Planetarium star theater.) Jim shared with me dozens of slides, pictures, and artifacts he’d been given or that were trash-bound but that he rescued during his 1969 to 2001 tenure at Morehead. As I look over the images of the star projector, the building, employees, and astronauts, I’m blown away by the fact that Chapel Hill was every bit a NASA training hub as existed in the sixties and seventies.
Today, I’ll have lunch with Richard McColman, the head of the GSK Fulldome Theater (as the star theater is now called since its 2010 modernization). Richard’s tenure of 1992 to present has involved upgrading the theater from mechanical to digital. Morehead continues to be a world class facility in part due to Richard’s efforts, those dovetailing perfectly in with Jim Horn’s perpetual upgrades and improvements of the past.
Tomorrow, I’ll get a chance to work with Todd Boyette, the Director of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, to further map out the two Morehead book projects I am pursuing with his blessing.
As my research deepens, I’ll put tidbits here for those who are hungry to know about astronaut training at Morehead and stories, like those of under-the-stars marriage proposals or astronauts coming to dinner.