At the end of this year, 2019, the San Jose Astronomical Association is celebrating its sixty fifth birthday. For us mere mortals, sixty five is traditionally the age at which we retire, quit our decades -long journey of work and getting things done, and finally look forward to hopefully another couple of decades of rest and relaxation. I don’t see the same thing for the SJAA.
The mission of the SJAA is to bring astronomy and science to the public, to inspire curiosity and to provide a place to go when an interest in space or astronomy (or geology or chemistry or any kind of science) is kindled. In these short-attention-span times, it seems that NASA missions (to the moon or Mars!) or rare celestial events (the recent Great American Eclipse of 2017!) or the sight of rocket launches (except maybe for SpaceX launches) don’t have the heft to inspire the awe that they once did.
I submit that something about those events being viewed on a high definition, but really small screen, and the number of times that it’s possible to view them, causes dilution of the experience, and dilution of the awe.
The handful of volunteers who run SJAA know that the awe is still there. The awe has been instilled deep within them, and they know there are seeds of that awe hibernating in others. Those seeds want to grow, but it’s not easy for them to germinate. Too many distractions, too many choices on what to do. But despite all that, SJAA volunteers continue to give their time to provide that place, either in the lecture hall or out at a dark hilltop, so the seed can be provided what it needs to grow into a healthy interest and inquiry in the world around us and beyond.
In the sixty five years since a small group of neighbors got together to create this special interest group, a few years before Sputnik and well before Apollo 11, there have been thousands of kids and grown-ups (and kids that turned into grown-ups), who have availed themselves of what SJAA has to offer. They may have come to listen to a professional astronomer talk about her research into the origin of galaxies. Or they may have come to borrow a telescope from the long-running Telescope Loaner program. Or they simply wanted to bring their kids out into the local night sky and show them what Mars or Saturn, or even just the moon, looks like up close and personal. Most of those people had a fleeting, momentary experience with the SJAA. Some of them became members for a period of time before interests shifted and they moved on. Still others, like a few I can name off the top of my head, stuck around for decades as members (and are still around, as members). And some members took the next step and donated the most precious of assets, their time. They became volunteers because they loved what they were learning and wanted to share it with others.
Since the SJAA is entirely a volunteer -run organization, we are always on the lookout for more members to participate. Attending events as a member of the public (or a member of SJAA) is good and very much appreciated. Participating and helping out is even better! Whatever your skills or strengths, you can help make a difference. Come to an event, talk to any board member of someone “in charge”, and they can tell you more. It can be uncomfortable at first, but you’ll soon find that it’s a great experience. It’s what you make it.
Sixty five years is a long time for a non-profit organization to exist. Although the SJAA is not a very well known staple of the south bay, a staple it is and we are proud that a steady stream of newcomers discovers the club and works to keep it going. We are thankful to those who bring new energy to the club along with their excitement to share the heavens with others. We are thankful to the City of San Jose for providing a place to call our basecamp. We are thankful that the SJAA has been here since 1954, and we will work to keep it going for another 65 years!
Treasurer, past President and board member