In New Hampshire, Space Exploration Has a Storied Past and a Bright Future

NHPBS Local Documentary airs July 4 at 7:30 PM

In July of 1969, a young Jeanne Gerulskis crowded around a television set with the other kids from her neighborhood, straining to make out the image on the screen. Her family was vacationing at Tucker Pond in Warner, New Hampshire in a cottage with no electricity or running water. A neighbor – their only neighbor with a television – had invited everyone over to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon.

 “It was ironic,” she recalls, “because there we were – on earth – seeing the grandest human achievement ever and all we had was this teensy, little black and white TV.”

Despite New Hampshire’s rustic reputation, its contributions to space exploration go far beyond families gathered around television sets.  Gerulskis, now the director of the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, joins New Hampshire-based scientists and researchers to discuss the Granite State’s involvement in the space program in the upcoming New Hampshire PBS documentary NEW HAMPSHIRE IN SPACE.

As the country commemorates the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this July, NEW HAMPSHIRE IN SPACE producer Phil Vaughn felt it was important to acknowledge New Hampshire’s unique role in the history of the space program. Derry native Alan Shepard was the first American in space in 1961 and 25 years later, Concord teacher Christa McAuliffe was chosen to be the first teacher in space.

But Vaughn notes that space exploration, and New Hampshire’s participation in it, is far from over. “The University of New Hampshire has a project in orbit around the moon right now.”

Andrew Jordan, a UNH research scientist who contributed to that project, says that CRaTER – or the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation – is designed to measure radiation around the moon over time. Ultimately, Jordan says this information will help researchers “understand how radiation would affect astronauts on the moon for long periods.”

Jordan, who wasn’t alive at time of the first moon landing, is excited about the future of space travel, which may include companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX taking private citizens to the moon. “There will never be another first moon landing,” says Jordan, “but it will be a very different moon landing if these companies go to the Moon or to Mars.”

John Gianforte, director of the UNH Observatory, notes that Elon Musk’s first paying customer bought seven tickets and is hoping to give several of those tickets to artists.

“He felt that artists could best describe the beauty of what they see to the rest of the world.”

For Gianforte, the ability to inspire and connect is an essential component of space exploration. The first moon landing “was a huge accomplishment for human beings,” he says.  “I thought for a short period of time… it brought the world together.”

Gerulskis concurs, saying the legacies of both Christa McAuliffe and Alan Shepard share “a spirit of adventure and excellence” but also a dedication to “sharing knowledge with the world.”

NEW HAMPSHIRE IN SPACE, which includes footage of interviews with both McAuliffe and Shepard, premieres on NHPBS on July 4th at 7:30 PM on New Hampshire PBS. NH IN SPACE airs as part of the PBS Summer of Space, which includes the 3-part American Experience documentary CHASING THE MOON. NH IN SPACE will also be shown at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord on July 20th. For more information about the NH IN SPACE screening go to nhpbs.org/events.

About New Hampshire PBS: New Hampshire PBS inspires one million Granite Staters each month with engaging and trusted local and national programs and services on-air, online, via mobile, in classrooms and in communities. Beyond its award-winning television programs, New Hampshire PBS is a leader in education and community engagement. www.nhpbs.org

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