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When Maarten Schmidt met Harold Griffith, grandson of Observatory founder Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, his commitment to public science education found a serendipitous outlet. Schmidt, currently professor emeritus of astronomy at Caltech, had long held that knowledge of the planets and stars was sadly lacking in the general public.


"This is partly because they don't really see them," Schmidt says. "Most young people, because of city lights and so on, don't have the faintest idea of the variety of objects in the sky and how they move."


Schmidt, Griffith and a small group of like-minded citizens founded Friends Of The Observatory (FOTO) in 1978 in part to support the Observatory's mission to fill that void. They knew that each year millions, including more than 50,000 students, attended the Planetarium show and for many it is their first informed look at the universe.


FOTO's labors were not confined to educational initiatives, however. Schmidt says this was never more apparent than during the remodeling.


Much of its work will be visible when the doors reopen later this year. But FOTO's behind-the-scenes efforts, involving the community and City of Los Angeles and its labyrinth bureaucracy, were just as critical, he says.


"We started out modestly and evolved into the motor behind the reconstruction effort. It's very important that Griffith Observatory be assisted by a group that thinks and operates independently. FOTO has played that role extremely well."


Which brings us back to education.


Griffith Observatory's bold renovation allowed planners to take its teaching mission to another level entirely. Schmidt welcomed the challenge.


"The Observatory, before the reconstruction, was in reality mostly a planetarium. There were a number of old-fashioned exhibits" that no longer engaged the audience in a meaningful, compelling manner. That's all changed now.


"What visitors will see is not only public education but entertainment in a very good sense," he says. "It enriches peoples' thinking to see this and appreciate where we live, and in the broadest sense, our place in the universe."

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2019-09-16: Cosmic Musings - 2019-09 - Carnegie
2019-10-04: All Space Considered 2019-10-04
2019-10-05: Public Star Party 2019-10-05
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