Upon reading the solicitation for an essay, I initially thought that there really wasn't much that I could contribute that would be considered of value. I haven't regularly used my telescope for several years, and there are so many semi-pros and gifted amateurs out there that have wondrous stories of discovery and achievement. However, a cheap, three-inch reflector telescope, a 14-year old boy, on a treeless tree bank on a dark street in Madison, Wisconsin, back in 1961, led to a career in engineering in the Space and Defense Industry. That in itself is kind of a neat story.
You might have figured out by now that the 14-year old boy was me. I don't even remember the brand of telescope I had. It was one of those cardboard tubes with a cheap tripod and it didn't even have a spotting scope! Talk about a "by guess and by God" operation! But, I didn't know any better. I started by targeting the nearest celestial bo... no, not the teenage girl down the stre... but the Moon. It was interesting to look at it, the craters, the other features and all, but it wasn't much different from using my hunting binoculars. So, I picked out a bright "star" in the sky. That is when my world changed forever!
Lining up on that "star" was a challenge. I had to take out the lens and maneuver the telescope body until it was in the mirror. Then I put the lens in, used the adjusting screws in the base of the telescope and brought the blurry image into the center. When I focused the lens, I saw something I had only seen in text books and encyclopedia... Saturn and its rings! It really did exist, and I was looking at it with my own eye! I yelled for my Dad and Mom to come out and look. I remember saying to them, "Behold, the rings of Saturn!" I think that was the first time anything I had ever done impressed my Dad!
Afterwards, I lined up on a brighter "star" and found myself looking at Jupiter and four of its moons. I found Mars. That summer I spent my evenings on one knee, using my telescope to journey the universe. I went on to become an electrical engineer, work in the space program, and while I haven't been an active astronomer, I realize that the night I just described, was a pivotal moment in my life and I would never be the same again.
I have studied telescopes, building them and using them, but life hasn't allowed me to do much observing until now. With Mars approaching, I am seriously considering a camera for my Orion reflector to capture in my computer, images that have been in my heart since 1961.