The Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society (MVAS), a Central New York club comprising 70 members who revere the sun, the stars and everything planetary, had a very down to earth dilemma. How could they protect their new $16,000 Meade telescope from the elements, especially moisture?
“Five years ago, our group decided to build an observatory,” said MVAS board member Charles Higgins. “The land was donated by a board member and we acquired our dome from a local military base. However, this was a dome from the 1960s – used to measure the distance between Earth and the Moon after Apollo 11 left a reflecting mirror on the Moon’s surface – and it leaked.”
This presented a real challenge when the MVAS purchased and installed the costly telescope. “We needed a material that would protect the telescope from moisture, while at the same time be breathable,” explained Higgins. “Otherwise, condensation could accumulate and damage our investment.”
Society members searched high and low for a solution, but had no success. When SATOP New York director Beth Bornick learned of their concerns, she encouraged them to submit a request to SATOP. “We filled out a request for technical assistance and, remarkably, had an answer to our problem in less than two weeks,” said Higgins.
The request was assigned to Madi Kalibala, a project engineer on staff at the SATOP Center in Syracuse, who answered the request for technical assistance himself rather than referring it to one of SATOP’s 49 Alliance Partners. “I wanted to research this one myself,” said Kalibala, whose background includes a wide variety of engineering experience. “I contacted Peak Fabrics, located in Calgary, Canada, who suggested Ultrex™, a waterproof yet breathable material.”
The Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society contacted Peak, purchased the Ultrex™ material at a nominal cost and sewed a telescope cover. It is currently doing what it was intended to do – protecting their investment.
“Our group is interested in astronomy and sharing our knowledge with others. Within our membership, we do not have the resources or contacts to find materials such as these,” said Higgins. “We are thankful that one of our members heard about SATOP because I’m sure we would have never found Peak Fabrics on our own.”
It was a rewarding experience for Kalibala, as well. “Because SATOP is a NASA outreach program and this request for technical assistance resounded with astronomical themes, it was a pleasure being able to assist,” said Madi. “It’s nice to help a non-profit organization whose mission is closely related to your own.”
Groups like MVAS generate support for NASA and help raise public awareness of astronomy through their educational programs and public star viewings. In fact, NASA recently designed the “Night Sky Network” specifically to reach out to astronomy clubs, and the MVAS immediately applied for membership.
“We’ve seen that NASA is very supportive of amateur astronomers, and we’re excited that we could benefit from their outreach programs,” said Joe Crossman, MVAS President.