February Q&A: Star Gazer

About one percent – that’s David McDonald’s guess about how many people know very much about the stars:”People tend to know their trees, the animals because they see them out their back door. We don’t encounter the stars as much.” His quest, as director of education for the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord, is to change that.

What do you most want people to know?

I want them to understand the vastness, the grandeur and the wonder of our universe.

What’s the darnedest thing you know about the universe?

That it’s expanding – the galaxies are moving away from each other – and that the expansion is accelerating.

Do we have to worry about that here on Earth?

No, not to worry.

Would you ever travel in space?

I think I would. I’d be happy to go to the space station, the moon or maybe to Mars. I’d get a little homesick going to Mars, though – depending on the orientation of the planets, it could be six or nine months just to get there and you could have to wait a year and a half or two years to leave.

Your favorite planet?

Pluto, though it’s important to note that I understand it’s reclassified as a dwarf planet. I’m hoping it’ll be reinstated as a full-fledged planet when the International Astronomical Union, the organization that decides the fate of such things, meets again in 2009.

A new wing of the planetarium is set to open early next year. What will we see?

Before you get in the door, you’ll see a full-sized Mercury Redstone rocket model, which is what Alan Shepard was launched into space in. Inside an exhibit area features a high-tech interactive globe, roughly a meter in diameter, that can become any planet or body you’re interested in. There’s also a green screen – you can pretend you’re doing the weather on TV.

Alan Shepard, even though he was from New Hampshire, hasn’t gotten a lot of attention.

It does seem that he’s been forgotten or at least not given the attention he deserves. Most students don’t know he was the first American in space. It’s great that the planetarium is a state memorial to both Shepard and Christa McAuliffe.

Where in New Hampshire is the best place to look at the sky?

Go to a place away from city lights. I understand Hillsboro is a good place to go, and toward the northern part of the state, Waterville Valley. Winter is the best time; there are more bright stars in the winter sky.

For more information about the planetarium visit www.starhop.com.