A brief summary of a long, rich history at Celestron
October 13, 2017
In the late 1950s, Tom Johnson, founder of Valor Electronics, built a telescope from scratch to introduce his sons to the wonders of stargazing. What began as a hobby soon grew to be Johnson’s driving passion—Celestron.
Johnson devised a new manufacturing process to make high-quality telescopes more affordable. Before Celestron, Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes (SCTs) were produced individually by master optical craftsmen who spent hours hand-figuring the glass. He streamlined this process by developing ultra-precise match plates, which allowed for mass production of the Schmidt corrector. This technique allowed Johnson to create telescopes of unparalleled quality and bring them to market at a surprisingly low price.
In its early days, Celestron produced SCTs up to 22 inches in aperture for government and industrial clients. But in 1970, Celestron rocked the industry with the introduction of its flagship Celestron 8. Known simply as the “C8,” this iconic orange telescope packed 8 inches of aperture into a compact, lightweight package—with a price tag under $1,000. Amateurs flocked to the C8 in droves, making the product an instant smash success. Suddenly, casual observers around the world were viewing faint, deep sky objects they’d only read about in books or viewed through large observatory telescopes. The hobby of amateur astronomy skyrocketed in popularity.
After revolutionizing visual astronomy, Celestron set its sights on the emerging field of astrophotography, releasing the Cold Camera in 1971. This astrophotography camera increased the speed of standard 35 mm film by chilling it to sub-zero temperatures, allowing the film to capture more light in the same exposure time, revealing unseen details in distant galaxies and nebulae.
Celestron led the way again in the 1980s during the advent of computerized or GoTo telescopes, which allowed the user to navigate the night sky without a paper star chart. In 1987, Celestron released the Compustar Computer-Controlled Telescope, the first GoTo mount controlled by an Intel 8052 microprocessor. Boasting more than 8,000 astronomical objects in its memory, the Compustar opened the hobby of astronomy those without a detailed knowledge of the night sky, paving the way for other GoTo mounts in the future.
Celestron has been honored to provide telescopes for two separate NASA missions. In 1992, Space Shuttle Atlantis carried a C5 and a C8 into orbit. A decade later, another group of astronauts installed a CPC 925 telescope in an Earth-facing window aboard the International Space Station. As part of NASA’s ISERV mission, the CPC captures images of the Earth to monitor global weather patterns and aid in disaster relief.
In 2006, Celestron developed a completely new kind of astronomy tool—the SkyScout Personal Planetarium. This small device could be mounted on a telescope or used on its own. Simply point SkyScout at an object in the night sky, and SkyScout would instantly identify it and provide its basic scientific data. SkyScout also included hundreds of audio descriptions, so users could listen and learn about the most popular objects. The device flew off the shelves and accomplished its goal of demystifying astronomy for novice observers.
Over the years, several Celestron telescopes have taken their turn in the spotlight. In 2009, to commemorate the International Year of Astronomy, Celestron was invited to the first White House Star Party. President and First Lady Obama both took their turns at the eyepiece of a CPC 800 telescope. In 2015, Celestron staff collaborated with physicist Stephen Hawking to create a custom CPC Deluxe 1100HD telescope that he could operate from his computer. The team traveled to Hawking’s home in Cambridge, UK, to install the telescope and help him capture his first astroimages.
In recent years, Celestron has continued to push the envelope and pursue its vision of making astronomy easier and more affordable for observers of all ages and experience levels. The company remains dominant in optics thanks to two new optical systems, EdgeHD and the Rowe-Ackermann Schmidt Astrograph. Celestron’s latest computerized mounts, CGX and CGX-L, represent the culmination of decades of achievement in GoTo telescopes. A team of in-house engineers continues to anticipate customers’ needs with solutions like SkyPortal WiFi technology that allows the user to control a Celestron telescope with a smartphone or tablet.
As the company evolves, Celestron carries on its founder’s commitment to quality. Skilled technicians still produce the 14-inch EdgeHD optical tube at its headquarters in Torrance, California, using Tom Johnson’s signature method.
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