John Dobson (1915-2014)
From the web site of The San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers (January 15, 2004):
"It is with heavy hearts that we must report the passing of John Dobson. He died peacefully this morning, Wednesday, January 15th, in Burbank, California. He was 98 years old. He leaves behind a son, numerous close friends, and fans and admirers worldwide.
On March 8th, in honor of John, this year's ISAN (International Sidewalk Astronomy Night) will be dedicated to his memory. Amateur astronomers around the globe can join in and celebrate John's life and continue to carry the torch that he lit back in 1968 when he co-founded the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers."
Remembering John Dobson
by former AAC president Bill Helms
I'm sure all of us are sad to hear of John's passing. We've all marveled, at one time or another, at views through The Yard Scope, or Tom Clark's 42 inch behemoth, or Elaine's Stardust, or Chris'/Rick's/my trusty Sir Isaac, Dobsonians all.
I'll never forget John's talk at Winter Star Party in 1996. When he spoke, I remember a heckler took exception to his admittedly different view of cosmology, and John told him to "Kiss my ***!" That was the high point of John's talk for me.
Eileen Kott, of the Southern Cross Astronomy Society, and I conspired to take John to the upcoming STS-75 Space Shuttle launch while he was still in Florida. When I got back to KSC, I explained to our Public Affairs Director, Hugh Harris, who John was, and his contributions to amateur astronomy. He responded with a pass to the VIP viewing site due south of the launch pad. Eileen and her parents drove John up to our house at Titusville the morning of February 22. We had a nice lunch, and John serenaded us on the piano. He was quite talented.
We left the house right after lunch, and my worries of a traffic backup proved completely unfounded. We zipped in across the Indian River, through the KSC Industrial Area, and left on Static Test Road, down to the nicely elevated Universal Camera Site with nary a hitch. We were right across the Banana River from USAF Pads 40 and 41, and three miles due South of Launch Pad 39. The weather was perfectly clear, almost hot, for a late February afternoon in Florida.
Bill Helms (L) and John Dobson at STS-75 launch (1996)
With propellant loading complete, the astronauts were helped on board and into their seats by the closeout crew. Communication checks followed, and soon we approached the terminal countdown. As we got to the final T minus 3 minutes 15 seconds of the terminal count, I mentally crossed my fingers that my Hazardous Gas Detection System would not detect a hydrogen leak and scrub the launch. I worried needlessly, and the countdown proceeded smoothly to T minus nine seconds. As the main engines spun up in their start sequence, a huge gout of steam erupted out the south flame trench directly toward us, blocking our view of liftoff right at 3:18 PM. Then, perhaps five seconds after T Zero, Space Shuttle Columbia appeared above the cloud of steam, with her tail straight toward us. We had a perfect view as she rolled tail east and climbed straight up, accelerating faster and faster. At about T plus 12 seconds, the sound hit us, that unbelievably loud crackling roar of the Space Shuttle Main Engines and the Solid Rocket Boosters. You could literally feel it in your gut! She pitched over to a climbing southeasterly heading, and continued to pick up speed. At two minutes, we could see the SRBs flame out and detach from the External Tank. The Shuttle, now looking like a bright star, continued southeast until it faded from sight.
We loaded the van, joined the traffic flow, and headed back to Titusville. On the way, someone mentioned gas mileage for the van we were in, and John and I began to try to figure the miles per gallon achieved by the Space Shuttle. We figured that, launch pad to orbit, it was pretty terrible. But if you consider the mileage for a full duration mission, at an orbital velocity of 17,500 mph, maybe not so bad.
I am proud to have had the privilege of hosting John to a Space Shuttle launch. He seemed to really enjoy it. It's not something easily forgotten. We amateur astronomers owe him a huge debt of gratitude, both for his development of the Dobsonian mount, his work with the Sidewalk Astronomers, and his missionary efforts to share our wonderful universe with the public at large.
Members like Alachua Astronomy Club
by Alexandrea Matthews