Details for proposed Pikes Peak Observatory come into focus
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ArtistsA rendering of the observatory design concept for the summit of Pikes Peak. The $500 million, 38,000-square-foot Summit House is expected to open in the fall of 2020.

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The group that plans to build an observatory on top of Pikes Peak already has its Mobile Earth + Space Observatory rolling to rural Colorado schools, whose students otherwise wouldn’t be using infrared cameras and solar telescopes while learning about water resources.

But with more money, MESO also could link to and remotely control the $650,000 telescope planned for the summit of America’s Mountain, said Bob Sallee, chairman of the National Space Science & Technology Institute, the local nonprofit that deploys MESO.

And by bringing that extra technology to Colorado schools, MESO aims to attract more students — especially girls and minorities — to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Sallee said.

“Our goal is to get the mobile observatory to communities throughout Colorado, particularly to communities that do not have the resources or access to get kids to science centers or museums,” he said.

The nonprofit now is trying to raise $175,000 to get MESO a new telescope, transportable planetarium, digital globe and other scientific instruments. An additional $150,000 would pay for MESO to make 100 school day visits in a year, he said.

“We’ll teach them about telescopes and astronomy and the science related to space,” Sallee said.

Most students at Lamar Middle School in southeast Colorado have never even left town, much less been to the mountains or a museum, said science teacher Robin Stacker.

But MESO will spend five days at the school next month, providing lessons with resources that “would take my entire science budget for the year,” Stacker said.

MESO scientists’ lessons in Lamar will focus on waterways and water resources, as well as letting students explore the skies with telescopes.

Such curriculum is imperative for Colorado youths, said Colorado Springs City Councilman Don Knight, who worked on many space systems during his 26 years in the Air Force.

First-graders often say they want to grow up to be astronauts, Knight said. But by the time they’re in high school, most have abandoned that idea in favor of a career with less math and science.

“We’re losing so many kids away from STEM in the middle school and high school ages. Every chance we can take to get kids educated in STEM, I think we should jump at,” said Knight, who strongly supports Sallee’s mission.

Stacker predicted that about 5 percent of each class in her school will move on to a STEM career, but she hopes to double that figure with MESO’s help.

More learning opportunities also will be provided by the $500 million, 38,000-square-foot Summit House now being built on Pikes Peak, Sallee said. It’s expected to open in the fall of 2020, and construction of the Pikes Peak Observatory could ensue the next year, ultimately adding to the peak an 11-foot-tall telescope with a diameter of more than 3 feet.

The National Space Science & Technology Institute has a pledge of $650,000 to buy the telescope. The entire observatory project is expected to cost about $3 million, much of which has yet to be raised, Sallee said.

If that telescope could connect to MESO, students would get a rare opportunity, he said. “”We’ll show them how to operate telescopes remotely and then actually connect it with the Pikes Peak Observatory and operate that telescope remotely.”

Knight said the observatory and its educational components will be a great addition to Pikes Peak, where visitors now simply eye the views, buy a doughnut and head back to town.

“Visitors could not only look down across the scenery that’s below, but also up to the skies where you’ve got less atmosphere and no light pollution,” he said. “And school kids could task it, whether from Colorado Springs or across the nation.”

After Lamar, MESO will head to Montezuma-Cortez Middle School, Sallee said. Anyone interested in the projects can email his group at info@nssti.org.

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