A Personal Perspective About the Celestron FirstScope
April 10, 2018
I was recently asked what it feels like to have a telescope named after me. After seeing the new Moon-inspired signature version of the Celestron FirstScope, with my name on it, I had some initial shock and confusion of “Why me?” Since then, I've had a chance to digest some thoughts that span more than half a century and have come to terms with the idea of a telescope bearing my signature.
Like many of my generation, the Moon is what sparked a lifelong interest in astronomy. In the 1950's, the Moon was little more than a backdrop for B-grade science fiction movies. The launch of the first Earth satellite, Sputnik, changed that forever! The American response to the appearance of a Russian satellite was a national push to accelerate science and technology. Within months of the birth of the Space Age, the U. S. Air Force began launching scientific probes toward the Moon.
At that time, the Moon was a “big deal” for amateur astronomers. No longer the realm of cheesy science fiction, the Moon was now a national goal, a destination, and a place to be explored! As the Space Race between America and Russia progressed, President Kennedy issued his famous 1961 challenge to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the decade. This was exciting stuff for a young person like me. American heroes rode a pillar of fire and dared to set foot upon another world!
As an amateur astronomer, I poured over the Moon through my small telescope, imagining what it would be like to land on that alien world. American technology prevailed and in 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first human to reach the Moon. But sadly, the grand reach for the Moon ended quickly when the government canceled further lunar exploration after 1972. The hard won ability to travel to other worlds, something that should have been regarded as a national treasure, was abandoned and scrapped.
As the space program turned away from the Moon in the 1970's so did the amateur astronomy community. The appearance of powerful, yet portable, telescopes like the Celestron-8 opened the deep sky for eager observers and the Moon became astronomy's neglected step-child.
But the Moon never faded from my heart. It is still the mysterious world that beckoned me as a child. It is still the ever changing orb that presents a parade of phases, varied geology, shadowed drama and beauty, and the lure of the unknown. The Moon is an easy telescopic target for beginners, readily found in a telescope, oblivious to light pollution, and needs no long trip to a dark sky site in order to appreciate the destination of what was mankind's most astonishing voyage of discovery. The Moon is the perfect back yard celestial target!
Today, I am delighted to see a renewed amateur astronomy interest in our natural satellite. I promote the Moon as often as I can, through popular publications, postings on Internet forums, and presentations to groups all over the USA. It pleases me greatly that Luna is once again in the sights of amateur telescopes. Just as the young lunar dreamers of my generation grew up to become the technological leaders of today, today's lunar dreamers will grow up to forge the future of our world.
So how do I feel about having a telescope named after me? To be associated with the FirstScope, an intuitively easy to use telescope that will introduce a new generation of kids to the delights of Moon, planets, and deep sky objects, brings great joy to my heart. Who knows which one of these young kids, inspired by views through their FirstScope, will go on to be Nobel laureates, the first person to set foot on Mars, or the captains of future industry? All of them will love the thrill of seeing the unseen and coming face to face with the universe. Inspiring a future generation is one of the most important things I can accomplish. The idea that a device with my name on it can help do that gives me a warm feeling. It is thrilling that in a small way I can help perpetuate the joy I have experienced through a life of celestial explorations.