VBAS Calendar

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NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Monte Sano State Park


Von Braun Astronomical Society

Astronomy Day 2016

Theme: Bringing Astronomy to the People

Astronomy Day will be Saturday, October 22, 2016 from 1:00 PM to 10:00 PM in Monte Sano State Park



Astronomy Day at VBASOn Saturday, October 22 from 1-10 pm, the Von Braun Astronomical Society will host its annual Astronomy Day at the VBAS facilities in Monte Sano State Park. Events will include family fun activities hosted by local science groups, planetarium shows and telescope observing (weather permitting). All activities are free and open to the public.

Outdoor hands-on activities from 1-5 pm will be offered by VBAS, as well as local science enthusiasts. In the past we have had representatives from HAL5 (National Space Society Huntsville Chapter), U.S. Space & Rocket Center, and Lonnie Puterbaugh: Astronomy Van.

Short planetarium shows will allow guests to view the night sky indoors, while special solar telescopes outside will offer views of sunspots and solar flares. Visitors may tour both observatory facilities to hear stories about the construction and installation of the telescopes.

Evening activities will kick off at 7:00 pm with a presentation indoors by our keynote speaker, Robert L. "Hoot" Gibson (CAPT, USN Ret.), former NASA Astronaut. Hoot will present his program again at 8:30 pm.

Tentative outdoor activities include: The Astronomy Channel, a mobile multimedia astronomy exhibit presented by Lonnie Puterbaugh of Nashville, TN, along with the following activities:

  • *Apollo 15 Moon Rock sample
  • *Astrophotography
  • *Meteorites
  • *Solar Telescopes
  • *Observatory tours
  • *Pin the Payload on International Space Station, and Make and Launch Your Own Paper Air Rocket presented by HAL5.
  • *Dry Ice comet making
  • *Spectroscopy
  • *Astronomy Van
  • *Live Satellite tracking
  • *Food Tent
  • *Telescope Workshop at 5:30 pm (Bring your telescope!)
  • *And many more


Afternoon Mini-Planetarium Show Schedule:

  • 1:30    Soap Opera in the Sky - Doug Horacek
  • 2:30    History of Spaceflight - Michael Buford
  • 3:30    2017Solar Eclipse - Beth Bero
  • 4:30    Buying a Telescope - Roy Young


Evening Show

Former NASA Astronaut Robert L. "Hoot" Gibson at 7:00 pm and 8:30 pm.

Speaker Bio:

Robert L. "Hoot" Gibson

PERSONAL DATA: Born October 30, 1946, in Cooperstown, New York, but considers Lakewood, California, to be his hometown. Married to Dr. M. Rhea Seddon of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Four children. He enjoys home built aircraft, formula one air racing, running and surfing during his free time. His mother, Mrs. Paul A. Gibson, resides in Seal Beach, California; his father is deceased. Her father, Mr. Edward C. Seddon, resides in Murfreesboro; her mother is deceased.

EDUCATION: Graduated from Huntington High School, Huntington, New York, in 1964; received an associate degree in engineering science from Suffolk County Community College in 1966, and a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from California Polytechnic State University in 1969.

SPECIAL HONORS: Awarded the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) “Louis Bleriot Medal” (1992), and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) “Freedom of Flight” Award (1989). Established world records for “Altitude in Horizontal Flight,” Airplane Class C1A in 1991, and “Time to Climb to 9000 Meters” in 1994. Military awards include: the Defense Superior Service Medal; the Distinguished Flying Cross; 3 Air Medals; the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V”; a Navy Unit Commendation; Meritorious Unit Commendation; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Humanitarian Service Medal; and Vietnam Campaign Medal.

EXPERIENCE: Gibson entered active duty with the Navy in 1969. He received primary and basic flight training at Naval Air Stations Saufley Field and Pensacola, Florida, and Meridian, Mississippi, and completed advanced flight training at the Naval Air Station at Kingsville, Texas.

While assigned to Fighter Squadrons 111 and 1, during the period April 1972 to September 1975, he saw duty aboard the USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) and the USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) -- flying combat missions in Southeast Asia. He is a graduate of the Naval Fighter Weapons School, "Topgun." Gibson returned to the United States and an assignment as an F-14A instructor pilot with Fighter Squadron 124. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, Patuxent River, Maryland, in June 1977, and later became involved in the test and evaluation of F-14A aircraft while assigned to the Naval Air Test Center’s Strike Aircraft Test Directorate.

His flight experience includes over 6,000 hours in over 50 types of civil and military aircraft. He holds airline transport pilot, multi-engine, and instrument ratings, and has held a private pilot rating since age 17. Gibson has also completed over 300 carrier landings.

NASA EXPERIENCE: Selected by NASA in January 1978, Gibson became an astronaut in August 1979. Gibson has flown five missions and has completed a total of 36-1/2 days in space. He served as pilot on STS-41B (February 3-11, 1984), and was spacecraft commander on STS-61C (January 12-18,1986), STS-27 (December 2-6, 1988), STS-47 (September 12-20, 1992), and STS-71 (June 27 to July 7, 1995). Gibson participated in the investigation of the Space Shuttle Challenger accident, and also participated in the redesign and recertification of the solid rocket boosters. Gibson served as Chief of the Astronaut Office (December 1992 to September 1994) and as Deputy Director, Flight Crew Operations (March-November 1996).

Gibson left NASA in November 1996 to pursue private business interests.

SPACE FLIGHT EXPERIENCE: STS-41B launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on February 3, 1984. The flight accomplished the proper Shuttle deployment of two Hughes 376 communications satellites which failed to reach desired geosynchronous orbits due to upper stage rocket failures. Rendezvous sensors and computer programs were flight tested for the first time. The STS 41-B mission marked the first checkout of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), and Manipulator Foot Restraint (MFR), with Bruce McCandless and Bob Stewart performing two spectacular EVA’s (space walks). The German Shuttle Pallet Satellite (SPAS), Remote Manipulator System (RMS), six "Getaway Specials," and materials processing experiments were included on the mission. The eight-day orbital flight of Challenger culminated in the first landing on the runway at the Kennedy Space Center on February 11, 1984. Mission duration was 191 hours, 15 minutes, 55 seconds.

STS-61C Columbia launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on January 12, 1986. During the six-day flight the seven-man crew aboard the Orbiter Columbia deployed the SATCOM KU satellite and conducted experiments in astrophysics and materials processing. The mission concluded with a successful night landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on January 18, 1986. Mission duration was 146 hours, 3 minutes, 51 seconds.

STS-27 Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on December 2, 1988. The mission carried a Department of Defense payload, and a number of secondary payloads. After 68 orbits of the Earth the mission concluded with a dry lakebed landing on Runway 17 at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on December 6, 1988. Mission duration was 105 hours, 6 minutes, 19 seconds.

STS-47, Spacelab-J, the 50th Space Shuttle mission, launched on September 12, 1992. The mission was a cooperative venture between the United States and Japan, and included the first Japanese astronaut as a member of the seven-person crew. During the eight-day flight, the crew aboard the Orbiter Endeavour focused on life science and materials processing experiments in over forty investigations in the Spacelab laboratory, as well as scientific and engineering tests performed aboard the Orbiter Endeavour. After 126 orbits of the Earth, the mission ended with a successful landing on the runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on September 20, 1992. Mission duration was 190 hours, 30 minutes, 23 seconds.

STS-71 (June 27 to July 7, 1995), carried a crew of seven-members (up) and eight-members (down) on Space Shuttle mission STS-71 was the first Space Shuttle mission to dock with the Russian Space Station Mir, and involved an exchange of crews. The Atlantis Space Shuttle was modified to carry a docking system compatible with the Russian Mir Space Station. It also carried a Spacelab module in the payload bay in which the crew performed various life sciences experiments and data collections. Mission duration was 235 hours, 23 minutes.


In case of inclement weather, some activities may be modified or canceled.

Astronomy Day at VBAS is part of a nationwide series of Astronomy Day events promoted by the Astronomical League, a network of astronomy clubs throughout the United States.

The Von Braun Astronomical Society (VBAS) is an educational, scientific, nonpolitical and nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of interest in the descriptive and technical phases of astronomy and to encourage participation in observational, computational and applied phases of this and related sciences.

VBAS was founded in 1954 as the Rocket City Astronomical Association (RCAA) by Dr. Wernher von Braun and other Huntsville scientists, who envisioned a place to conduct meaningful scientific research and share astronomy with the community. The VBAS facilities include a planetarium dome constructed from Saturn V support hardware and many other unique architectural features.

If you are interested to exhibit or volunteer, please contact us!


VBAS Astronomy Day 2016 sponsored by:


October 2016 Planetarium Shows

We Host a Public Planetarium Show Every Saturday that Begins at 7:30 PM

Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko/ESA- ROSETTAComets- Saturday, October 1

Learn about the icy interlopers that visit the inner solar system from time to time. Some comets are regular visitors and others only stop by once. Where do they originate? What kind of stuff makes up a comet? Find out what we have learned from the recent visit to a comet by Rosetta and Philae. Presented by Doreen Forsythe.



Uranus & Neptune/NASA Voyager 2Ice Giants: Uranus and Neptune- Saturday, October 8 at 7:30 PM

We do not hear much about these distant planets. In September VBAS will explore the history of their discovery and what we know about Uranus and Neptune. It will inspire you to want to know more, that's a fact!  Presented by Jared Cassidy, VBAS Past-President.



Fall Skies- Saturday, October 15 at 7:30 PM

Now that autumn is here with its longer and more comfortable evenings, we will look at the fall constellations. Presented by Tanner Harper.

Astronomy Day- Saturday, October 22

We will have presentations in the planetarium from 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM for Astronomy Day, followed by a special presentation by former NASA Astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson at 7:00 PM and 8:30 PM. For more information about our Astronomy Day activities, please click the Astronomy Day link in the menu on the left side of this page.

IC2118 The Witch Head Nebula/NASA

Spooky Skies- Saturday, October 29 at 7:30 PM

It is that time of the year when thoughts turn to eerie and spooky stuff.  Come out and enjoy this fun program on the spooky skies of fall. Presented by Beth Bero.


Remember that if weather permits, there will be telescopes open for viewing.

Admission for Saturday Planetarium Shows:

Admission is $5 for Adults, $3 for Students, and free for children under 6, as well as VBAS members. Weather permitting, you will have the opportunity to look at some of the wonders of the universe through our telescopes following the planetarium program with the help of our experienced and knowledgeable observing crew.

For information about our Planetarium shows, as well as special group scheduling, and pricing, please contact our Planetarium Director,  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or our Director of Education and Programs,  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Monthly Society Meeting

The next VBAS Monthly Meeting is on Friday, October 21. As the Astronomy Day is on October 22, we will be setting up for the Astronomy Day. We are looking for volunteers to help us in setting up. Please join us if you can.

Tom Burleson



Dark Sky Viewing Event at French Camp, MS - Oct. 28-30

Written by Administrator Monday, 03 October 2016 19:01

VBAS at French Camp, MSFrench Camp at the Rainwater Observatory will be the last weekend in October before Halloween, Friday evening the 28, Saturday evening 29, leave Sunday Morning the 30. Be sure to get there Friday afternoon and evening not only to set up, but also to enjoy the Steak dinner on Friday evenings at the French Camp Restaurant. Costs are gas $60, Food $50-$60, overnight at the bunk house, $30 for two nights, and camping, $20 for two nights. Other more expensive lodging available for families. Cabins and a Bed and Breakfast are also available.

The dark sky viewing site is in French Camp, Mississippi. This location is one of the best dark sky sites in the southeast and has outstanding facilities: a 32” Tectron, a 20.5” Dobsonian, two Celestron C-14s, a 12” Meade, and two 6” Refractors, all available for our use. In addition, they have camping and kitchen facilities, classrooms, and a library. The drive is about five hours from Huntsville.

Call Doug Horacek at 256-772-6788 for more information.


A Brief VBAS History

Written by Al Reisz Sunday, 07 November 2010 20:45


In 1954 Huntsville High School student Sam Pruitt wrote a letter asking Dr. von Braun, then at Redstone Arsenal, to build an observatory for school children interested in astronomy. Von Braun didn’t hesitate in organizing his colleagues, students and others in the community to build our observatory on Monte Sano. Von Braun was our society’s first president [then known as the Rocket City Astronomical Association (RCAA)]. After his death we re-named our society in his honor. VBAS is an astronomical society for amateur and professional astronomers. VBAS is a special astronomical society in that our origins began with the citizens who fervently believed in space exploration before it began. In the early 1960s NASA scientists used the telescopes at VBAS to help select lunar landing sites for the Apollo program. VBAS history is storied with space exploration pioneers such as Oberth, von Braun, Stuhlinger, Swanson and Angele. Many of our members were involved in developing the Saturn V, the rocket that sent the Apollo astronauts to walk on and explore the Moon. Our planetarium has a shield of the Saturn V third stage fuel tank top half serving as our projection dome. VBAS is a society that provides the public with opportunities for telescopic viewing of the night sky. We have astronomy programs, star parties and astronomy related special events. Still true to our beginnings we continue to give presentations in astronomy and star tours to student and other groups. We welcome those of you with interests in exploring the stars to join us.

26 June 57 The Rocket City Astronomical Association (now the Von Braun Astronomical Society) put out the first edition of the locally edited Space Journal, a new magazine dealing with space travel and the astrosciences. The first issue was dedicated to Dr. Hermann Oberth, who is known as the

26 June 57 The Rocket City Astronomical Association (now the Von Braun Astronomical Society) put out the first edition of the locally edited Space Journal, a new magazine dealing with space travel and the astrosciences. The first issue was dedicated to Dr. Hermann Oberth, who is known as the "father of astronautics." Left to right: Dr. Hermann Oberth, Dr. Wernher von Braun, RCAA (VBAS) President, and Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger.

VBAS is the second observatory that Wernher von Braun was instrumental in building. As a student at the Lietz boys high school that he attended in Berlin, at the school’s North Sea campus on the island Spiekeroog, he influenced the school to buy a telescope and build a small observatory in 1927. He selected a reflector with a 95-mm objective lens.

Al Reisz,



M51 The "Whirlpool" Galaxy

Written by Administrator

This is one of the latest images we have taken with the Sims SBIG camera. It is of M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy located in the constellation Canes Venatici, just off the last star in the tail of the Big Dipper. The image was taken on April 12, 2013 through our 6 inch Astrophysics StarFire apochromatic refractor on an Orion Atlas mount and was made by stacking multiple exposures taken through different filters in order to achieve the color image.  The smaller object (at the bottom of M51, in this picture) is its companion galaxy, NGC 5195. Jeff Delmas, Frank Schenck, Jared Cassidy, and Doug Horacek were the observing crew that acquired the image.

M51 Color image with 6 inch StarFire Refractor


First Light of the Richard Sims SBIG Camera

Written by Administrator Saturday, 23 June 2012 12:33

The night of June 22, 2012, brought "first light" to our new digital astronomical camera, which was made possible, thanks in part, from a donation by Terri Sims in memory of her husband Richard Sims.  Our new camera is a SBIG model STF-8300M, with St-i Autoguider/Planetary Camera, and FW8 Filter Wheel.  This is a monochrome camera, which uses filters and multiple images stacked together to achieve a color image, this allows all available pixels to be used for making the image and provides better resolution than single-shot color cameras.  M57 The Ring Nebula located in the constellation Lyra

Our plan is to use this on the Swanson 21 inch telescope and other society scopes to show the wonders of the universe to the public and make contributions in astronomical research.


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