Press Release

Schriever space pros keep eyes on the skies

By SpaceRef Editor
January 11, 2007
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While the 50th Space Wing’s mission covers about 23,000 miles into space, Schriever’s amateur astronomers spend their free time studying objects much further out.

Among Schriever’s stargazers are Airmen and contractors, both past and present, who have spotted GPS satellites, Jovian moons, variable stars and more. For some, it’s a lifelong hobby; for others, it’s part of a family tradition.

Capt. Michael Noss, 50th Operations Support Squadron, became interested around the time most children are learning to crawl and walk. His grandfather was one of the first NASA engineers and helped developed heat shields so manned spacecraft could survive reentry.

“When I was just starting to learn how to read, my grandfather sent me a series of astronomy-related books,” Captain Noss said. “I was only a year or two old at the time. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in astronomy.”

Lt. Col. John Shaw, 4th Space Operations Squadron commander, was slightly older when his father kindled his interest in the stars.

“My dad would take me to the observatory at Wheaton College (near Norton, Mass.),” Colonel Shaw said. “I was inspired enough to do a science fair project on the planets and their formation in fourth grade and have maintained an interest in ‘space stuff’ since.”

The astronomers have different objects of interest. Colonel Shaw said he enjoys watching Jupiter and its moons and Saturn. Lt. Col. John Moss, commander of the Space Innovation and Development Center’s 25th Space Control Tactics Squadron, follows deep space objects such as nebulas and galaxies.

Scott Donnell, an aerospace engineer with AI Solutions who has worked with 4th SOPS, spends much of his time photographing variable stars, which he provides along with brightness estimates to the American Association of Variable Star Observers. He’s also tracked and recorded video of satellites in orbit.

“I’ve made video recordings of close approaches between satellites, and more recently, I’ve engaged in recording the Apogee Kick Motor events of GPS satellites during low-earth orbit,” Mr. Donnell said.

There’s something in the stars to keep each of the astronomers engaged. For Colonel Moss, the lure is astrophotography. For Colonel Shaw, it’s his children’s interest. For others, it’s the mystique of the universe itself.

“There’s a sort of magic to astronomy: it’s one of those ‘look but don’t touch’ fields,” said Captain Noss, who researched dark matter in college. “It’s like new fallen snow; it’s pure science. Astronomers learn for the pure joy of learning.”

“The universe is a fascinating place that holds many secrets,” Mr. Donnell said. “You can spend a lifetime exploring it and feel like you’ve only scratched the surface.”

SpaceRef staff editor.