Western Nevada College physics professor Thomas Herring wasn’t alive the last time someone stepped foot on the moon.
“That’s a little bit sad for a country that did it first,” the 42-year-old said Wednesday.
But he still looks up to the sky and thinks of the possibilities. More importantly, he maintains the hope that more Carson City natives will become interested in doing the same.
With the 50th anniversary celebration of Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s landing on the moon July 20, the Nevada State Museum this week has encouraged the public, especially those who watched the event in 1969, to attend its special events this week. Activities included guest speakers who shared insights on the history of the Apollo Lunar Quarantine program, research on virtual reality to assist with training astronauts and collaboration with robots for space exploration.
The museum saw 258 visitors, including children from the Carson City Summer Youth Program who enjoyed a number of science demonstrations. They launched seltzer rockets, built balloon-powered rocket cars and learned from Herring, who is also WNC’s Jack C. Davis Observatory director as well as the observatory’s former director Robert Collier and other volunteers, about the moon, sun and stars, their distance from Earth and the experience of observing them through telescopes.
“It’s nice to do some daytime astronomy,” Herring said, who typically observes at night. “It’s a really good chance to partner with the museum and engage with groups that haven’t made it to the observatory or don’t know we’re there and publicize what we do. We don’t just look at the stars; we also do outreach.”
Herring, who has a doctorate in physics, and took over the observatory from Collier, attends conferences across the nation, and as he promotes the observatory, he says WNC’s facility is unique because it was a public investment.
Herring said they’re working on securing funding for a part-time technician.
“It runs on volunteer power and love, love of astronomy, and even this is my part-time job,” he said. “That’s why the community connection is so important.”
“Our primary goal is to provide opportunities for the public. It’s not just about holding astronomy classes for students. It’s about education for everyone.”
Going forward, he hopes the space program will consider not just going back to the moon.
“Other things beckon, like Mars, something we can step on — Mercury, maybe, but that’s awfully hot,” he said. “Venus is way too hot. The logical steps are to get to the moon, then start going toward Mars.”
He added anyone is invited to come to the observatory at WNC whenever the skies are clear.