Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Journey to the last frontier

Doc film traces history of Palomar telescope

Express Staff Writer

The history of American astronomy begins with George Ellery Hale, who began to build the largest telescopes of the 20th century. Hale's telescopes were precursors to the Hubble Space telescope and the mega telescopes being built today.

A documentary film, "The Journey to Palomar: America's First Journey into Space," by Todd and Robin Mason, traces Hale's life as he struggled to build telescopes at the Yerkes Observatory near Chicago, the Mount Wilson Observatory above Los Angeles and the million-pound telescope on Palomar Mountain near San Diego, considered the "moon shot" of the 1930s and '40s.

The film is presented by the Community Library and will screen at the Magic Lantern Cinema in Ketchum on Sunday, Nov. 9, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for children. The film will also be shown on PBS beginning Monday, Nov. 10. Check local listings for times and channels.

Attending the screening will be George Hale's grandson Brack Hale, a Ketchum resident of 35 years. Brack said the film only concentrates on Palomar, but his grandfather also founded California Institute of Technology and was part of the origins of the National Academy of Sciences, where his portrait hangs today.

"Genius strikes remotely, and it only struck one time in our family," Brack said. "It is nice to see my grandfather finally get the recognition he deserves. My grandfather died when I was 7, but I certainly knew him."

Hale's quest to see space was a difficult and debilatating life experience. He was a dedicated scientist, inventor and entrepreneur who suffered from neurasthenia, a nervous condition triggered by overworking.

"It was very severe, and he had terrible depression," Brack said. "He suffered devastating headaches, and it was a miracle he could think. He traveled the world looking for a cure, and he couldn't find one. At 70, he died of a stroke."

George Hale did not live to see the completion of his greatest masterpiece, the Palomar 200-inch Hale telescope. The film includes a variety of people—glass workers in Corning, New York, Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble and captains of American industry such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Chicago streetcar baron Charles Yerkes.

Brack Hale said he will go to Pasadena for the formal showing and dinner, which is being hosted by the Carnegie Institute.

"Andrew Carnegie was his patron saint," he said.

"The Journey to Palomar" celebrates the American spirit that anything is possible, and is a dramatic personal story set against a historical backdrop.

For details, call 726-3493.

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