I currently work full time as a Senior Machinist, I love the trade. Formally I was a Composite Layup Tech and Electrical Test Tech for the same company. I also worked for John Deere as a mechanic for a year and a half. You could say I'm a jack of all trades master of none.
I have found my niche In machining and continuing the family trade.
The skills I have learned over the years in my field of work, have allowed me to under take the projects of amateur telescope making and astrophotography. Although I still have a lot to learn.
I have been into astronomy since well... as long as I can remember. As a kid my bedroom had space wallpaper with glow in the dark stars and planets all over it by the time I was 5.
My father in the early 90's saw this interest in space and decided to build a telescope to take out and look into the cosmos.
At this time my Grandfather had his own machine shop so my dad enlisted the help of him and my Great Uncle who was also a machinist.
What came out over the course of 3 months was a massive 12.5 inch Newtonian based telescope on a scratch built German equatorial mount with a clock drive on the RA axis.
At this point what I remember is traveling to camp grounds and family friend's houses with my Dad and Grandfather freezing my butt off.
After a year of staying local they decided to take me to Stellafane in Vermont, the home of amateur telescope making to see what it was all about.
When we got up there a few people asked if we were going to enter it into the telescope competition. My father thought about it and said why not. Well it ended up taking 1st place for craftsmanship and 3rd place for mechanical design in 1993.
After so many adventures when I was a kid with my father and grandfather. I entered high school and like most kids around this time interests changed and I fell out astronomy. The telescope ended up becoming a distant memory of my childhood.
Fast forward to 2016.
One day by chance I spotted the old telescope stuffed in a corner of my parents garage. It had been neglected for many years. The original vivid red of the mount was almost brown from the dust and the optical tube's end covers protecting it had rotted away leaving the optics exposed to a lot of dirt.
I asked my Dad if it would be ok if I take it to my little workshop I had and try to get it working again, he agreed.
After bringing it back to the house the shear overbuilt nature is what saved it. The 100% stainless hardware, anodized aluminum and fiberglass OTA tube meant corrosion wasn't an issue. The unknown was if the irreplaceable hand figured full thickness research grade mirror by Galaxy Optics was still any good. You couldn't even see a reflection through it with all of the dirt.
After tearing everything down we carefully cleaned the mirrors and to our surprise they were in perfect condition. The 30 year old coatings didn't even have a blemish on them. I had hope at this point.
Approximately 6 months later.
I had started with an old clock drive on the RA axis. At this time I had a complete GOTO drive installed with a full imaging rig attached ready to take it out for its first light. It just barely fit into the back of my Jeep. The plan was to take it to my girlfriend's parents house who had a nice big yard with some decent skys. Upon setting it up I had a knot in my stomach, I just couldn't stop thinking if this doesn't work I have wasted a decent amount of time and money on this endeavor. I had bought a pole master for this scope due to it not having any provisions for a polar scope. Getting the polar alignment set was a breeze but it went downhill from there.
When I first started the mount up I told it to go to a bright star called Vega and it went to the complete opposite side of the sky. So I had to reverse the declination axis by reflashing the arduino driving it and that was the simple fix. But the struggle was only beginning, I only had a vague idea of how a GOTO mount works, 3 star alignments or what plate solving was at this point. So I'm out in the middle of a yard with a 300 LB telescope with a lot of sentimental value with basically no idea of what I was doing. I again slew to Vega and told the camera software to take a shot. After the camera finished taking it's exposure all I received was a blank screen. I was terribly out of focus, after 30 minutes I finally had my camera in enough focus to see some stars but nothing bright like the pictures I had seen on the internet of Vega.
At the beginning of the night my girlfriend, her brother, and parents had come to sit with me for support. Around 2 hours after achieving focus I was still trying to get Vega in view. Everyone had fallen asleep in their chairs when I decided to loosen the clutches on the mount and manually move it to Vega. I had been using the drive motors in random circles while looking down the side of the tube with no luck. I had no eyepieces or finder scope to aid me. WIth the clutches disengaged and the camera in live view, I did circles with the OTA till I saw a bright streak on the screen, at this point I knew I had it. I centered my chosen star, locked the clutches and told the mounts computer that it was pointing at Vega. Finally I was able to sit down and look for something easy and big to take a picture of. I choose M31 the Andromeda Galaxy.
It was the moment of truth, I slewed the mount to M31 and told the camera to take a 60 second exposure. When the camera's picture downloaded to my laptop, there it was my first picture of a deep space object with my cheap $80 ebay find of a dslr. I had what looked like a big cotton ball in the middle of my screen. I couldn't believe it, it actually worked! I yelled out so loud I woke my girlfriend and her family up, I was hooked!
That week my girlfriend and I bought our tickets online for the 2017 Black Forest star party that was coming up. We took it all the way to northern PA pulling our little popup camper. We met some great people and took some great pictures. We have since made the Black Forest and the Cherry Springs star party a yearly thing.
Since then I have been working on building a smaller mount from scratch and have purchased a Losmandy G11 mount, a lighter setup that doesn't take 2 to 3 people to assemble so I can get out more often.
That is my story of astronomy up to this point. I couldn't have done it without the help and support of my girlfriend, her parents and countless people at work. Without their knowledge and help it wouldn't have turned out to be half of what it is today.
This might have been a little long winded but I feel it's a story that needed to be told, It's one going on 30 years now. All starting with some space wallpaper in my bedroom as a kid. I look back at how many times I hit a wall on this project and If I had given up I would not be at this point in my life... enjoying the best hobby there is, Astrophotography.