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Started in Astronomy

Thomas Wm. Hamilton

November 7, 2012

World War 2 was still raging, and I was just five years old. Venus shone brightly in an evening sky. My uncle was watching me that evening, and when I asked what the bright thing in the sky was he recited "Twinkle twinkle". This intrigued me enough to decide to follow up, and I made the adults read astronomy books to me until I could read them myself. I hung out at the Hayden Planetarium, took astronomy in college, and in fact was taking intro astronomy when Sputnik 1 went up. My extracurricular activity was in the college radio station. We lugged a 30 pound Ampex tape recorder to the ham station, recorded Sputnik's beep on its first pass over New York, and broadcast it on our fm station, WKCR. The next morning the FBI came and stole the tape. While I was in graduate school President Kennedy started the Apollo Project, and I was recruited to work on it at Grumman Aircraft, officially to calculate fuel requirements and radar accuracy needs. Unofficially I had to teach a bunch of engineers to use proper terminology--as an example, they didn't know any better, so had invented the name "central angle" for the true anomaly. As the design work on Apollo wound down I went to work for a planetarium manufacturer, writing canned shows they provided with their planetarium projectors. Then I was hired away to run a college planetarium and teach astronomy, which I did for 32 years until retiring. Several of my former students went into the planetarium field, and one became NASA's resident expert on eclipses.


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