BYO Telescope

Executive Director John Holloway at the Learning Center at PARI says Space Day will feature the facility’s impressive collection of meteorites and a special-exhibit rocket. 
Photo by Karin Strickland

What do the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) and an Academy Award-nominated film have in common? 

A rocket. 

The Learning Center at PARI is now the home of the Redstone rocket, prominently featured in Hidden Figures, the 2016 movie about the team of African-American women mathematicians whose skills critically boosted NASA during the height of the “Space Race” years.

The rocket is on loan from the Smithsonian Institute and will be on display during Space Day this month. The event, ongoing for more than 15 years, gives the community a chance to see what’s happening at the remote facility in Transylvania County.

Rocket viewing isn’t the only activity, according to Executive Director John Holloway.

Photo by Karin Strickland

“We’re going to have some activities centered around STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math] and STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] spectroscopy,” he says. “We have some meteorites on display. We give folks the change to see those, handle those, and get details about meteorites and what they are made of. We have a fairly large collection in the gems-and-minerals exhibit. I believe we will also be doing some radio astronomy that day.”

As the day moves into night, visitors will have a chance to view the stars and possibly see planets, constellations, and, maybe, the International Space Station.

“It’s an opportunity for folks to use our instruments, but also to bring their own and practice with them. [They can] ask us questions if they get in a bind or they want to figure out something with their instrument. It gives you a safety net,” Holloway explains. “You may just want a little assurance that you’ve set it up correctly or that you are aiming it at the right thing. It’s nice to have someone to ask a question to.

Photo by Karin Strickland

In the past year, the Learning Center at PARI has shifted its focus. The institute, which opened in 1963 as the Rosman Tracking Station to allow communication with satellites and manned space flights as they passed over the East Coast, has pivoted more to camps and field study.

“It has taken us from the singular focus on research activities at the facility and really moving the needle into the area of hands-on learning for [educational] initiatives,” Holloway says. “We have a whole array of activities, instruments and curricula [for STEM and STEAM]. We also have a mobile planetarium that has been one of our main focus points since the beginning of the organization.  

“We can take it to the remote areas of the state so kids can have the experience of that. It’s something we can set up on site.”

Space Day at the Learning Center at PARI (1 PARI Drive, Rosman) happens Saturday, May 4, 10am-11pm. For more information, see pari.edu

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