Falling stars: Remembering Jack Horkheimer … a personal perspective

Posted by Mike Reynolds
on Monday, August 30, 2010

I had the honor of traveling the United States as a NASA Teacher-in-Space finalist following the 1986 Challenger accident. My audiences ranged from primary school classes to civic organizations. And more often than not, I had an invitation to speak at an astronomy club, museum, or planetarium. That’s where I first met Jack Horkheimer.

Jack Horkheimer on the set of Star Hustler in the 1970s. Courtesy Jack Horkheimer
Florida amateur astronomers Don Parker and Tippy D’Auria, both of whom I had known for some time, suggested to Jack that I come to the Miami Space Transit Planetarium to share my Teacher-in-Space experiences along with my post-Challenger perspective.

As viewers of Jack’s long-running television show Star Gazer know, he was a delight. But with him it went beyond the cordial and, should I say, socially acceptable reception one would normally find. Jack really wanted to know from me — one-on-one — what had happened, what it was like. Specifically, he wanted to know all about the raw emotions of my experiences. I found him interested in me as a person.

Jack was an innovator in the planetarium. Probably due to his background in theater, he realized we could no long rely solely on the projected star field that had been the centerpiece of the planetarium for so long. What caught people’s attention was changing. So Jack was one of the first to add a little excitement to the show. Many planetarium directors felt this extra pizzazz was unnecessary. But as usual, Jack was ahead of his time — and absolutely right on! Understand that this is the same guy that could keep a room of first-graders or professional astronomers spellbound.

Jack’s work as Star Hustler, and then Star Gazer (actually, I always loved the not-politically-correct Star Hustler title), on PBS through Miami’s Public Broadcast Station WPBT brought observational astronomy into the homes of many people. He was entertaining yet informative. People would stay up late to see the Star Hustler, or learn how to record it on one of those newfangled VCRs. And viewers did “keep looking up,” as Jack always said.

He kept a solid link to amateur astronomers, not only in the Miami area, but nationwide. He would quietly support programs and events behind the scenes. Jack’s support of youth in astronomy has been well demonstrated over the many years through the Astronomical League and its young astronomer awards.

When I first started teaching in 1975, I felt I needed a personal signoff. I started using “Keep Looking Up” because that’s what I wanted those who I touched as an educator to do — keep looking up at the sky. A short time later I discovered that Jack had been using the same phrase as his signoff for some time. That gave me a little verification of my closing signature. I still use “Keep Looking Up” today.

As a former planetarium and science center director, I can tell you honestly that Jack Horkheimer not only influenced and encouraged me but many others in the informal and formal science education arena.

Keep Looking Up, Jack, and thanks!


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