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The Webfooted Astronomer - March 2001


From the President's Pen . . . Continuing Education

By Mary Ingersoll

ALISON, a fourth grader at Cole Elementary in Seattle, interviewed me the other day. She's in the middle of a year-long research project about the planets of our solar system. She already had her facts and figures, so our conversation centered on the planets that I liked the best and what my opinion was about Pluto. We talked about the growing number of moons around Saturn, the possibility of water on Europa and Uranus' goofy tilt. It was like talking to a friend in a common language. Laughing about things that would be meaningless to some folks. (When I made my first telephone contact, I could almost hear Alison cringe when her father introduced me as the lady from the "astrological" society. But we were cool, and didn't get down on Dad.)

The time was short, but I was happy to be of help to Alison. I've been interviewed on several occasions for similar school projects. When I worked at the Museum of Flight, I would end up with the journalist trying to find a retired astronaut who might be able to help them with an article about the landing on the Moon every July 20. I worked with the volunteer corps that included engineers and steely eyed missile men who worked on the project, but astronauts were hard to find. KOMO news filmed me in my blue "astronaut" suit during a simulated mission and stuck the film in a file labeled "science and education." Every time the newscasters would talk about "science and education," suddenly you'd see me on the screen barking orders in Mission Control. I only saw it once, but my friends would keep me informed on the Astronaut Mary sightings.

Books about space can be interesting, but nothing beats pictures or that personal interaction with someone who's been there."When Eugene Cernan wrote about his experiences on the Moon (The Last Man on the Moon, 1999), he didn't want to write another tome with facts and figures. That had already been done numerous times. He wrote a story focusing on the same questions he got from the public about his personal contact with the Moon. (What did the Moon smell like? Gun powder.) His book focused on his joys and heartbreaks (and fears) that went with being one of the few who had the great privilege of going to the Moon. It was an honor for me to meet this man, and I am saddened to think that one day all these brave men who went to the Moon will be gone, and we won't have anyone who will be able to give us a first hand account of those events. Only books will tell their facts and figures, but the twinkle in their eyes will be gone.

We as amateur astronomers are that personal touch between the facts and figures in a book and the students who are drawn to our favorite subject. We offer the emotional (fun) side to what can be a dry subject to many kids. Someone who likes something can't help but be energized by it, and energized fun is infectious!

There are a lot of Alison's out there. Maybe they need your time for 30 minutes, maybe for a couple of hours, maybe a year or two. Project ASTRO is an incredible program that gives you the opportunity to visit with a classroom of kids and talk about your favorite hobby. Astronomy Day is coming up on April 28—another opportunity for the public to interact with real amateur astronomers. Perhaps you would be interested in spending more than a few minutes or a few days with a group of kids. We are in the process of organizing and developing a youth program. If you would be interested in learning, teaching, playing and having fun, then contact either myself (206-246-0977) or Karl Schroeder (206-362-7605) who is our Education officer.

And if you are a student who would like to participate in a group for younger amateur astronomers, contact me about what sort of activities or programs that you would be interested in doing. You can contact me by phone or by e-mail at

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