Donate Now!
Fall 2016 Update
Signup for FOTO's Update Newsletter
Fall 2016 UPDATE
The Atlas Fund - Mapping a Future for Griffith Observatory

By Bonnie Winings, FOTO Director of Development and Communications


Now that I’ve been onboard as FOTO’s Director of Development and Communications for a year plus, I continue to be amazed at the activity level a small, hard-working staff can pull off! In 2016 alone, FOTO offered Cosmic Musings lectures each month, hosted four Vanguard Society events, set up dozens of media interviews (especially around astronomical events like the Transit of Mercury and the Solstices/Equinoxes), set up trips to Mt. Wilson, and traveled with 55 members to Indonesia for an eclipse cruise in March.


We do this first because we are dedicated to a world-class icon, Griffith Observatory, nestled in the hills of Griffith Park for 81 years now. Our institution is referred to as a “Must See” by Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor, and TripExpert. We host major media outlets (NBC and CBS News, Reuters, CNN, NASA) who seek answers to space exploration issues.


And second, FOTO provides activities for members and the public because those activities introduce the wonders of the sky and the universe beyond. We bring in speakers who provide a first-hand view of current breakthroughs in astronomical research. We discuss interplanetary travel and the type of pioneers it will take to accomplish this. We dissect stories of Planet Nine, the exoplanets, gravitational waves from 13.4 billion years ago, and brown dwarfs. We introduce so that we can inspire: a love of science, a passion for the universe and what it holds, and a deep affection for our own island planet Earth.


The basic operating budget for Griffith Observatory is covered by the City of Los Angeles, Department of Recreation and Parks. This serves to keep the lights on, the building clean, the exhibits functioning, the small staff paid, and the general area safe. But the City budget does NOT cover new state-of-the-art programs that the Observatory must develop to maintain its global reputation. That’s the purpose of The Atlas Fund.


Right now, FOTO is involved with four distinct programs that bring (or will bring!) the sky to our constituency. We’ve put these programs under the umbrella of The Atlas Fund, which will provide financial support to these programs. The Fund allows FOTO and the Observatory staff the flexibility to serve the greatest need at any given time and also to be prepared for special public astronomical needs – comet appearances, planet conjunctions, space exploration projects, and the specialized equipment and resources required to make them happen.



A New Planetarium Show, Signs of Life (working title)
This innovative, live show with stunning 3D visual effects will be the first show created specifically for the 8K, state-of-the-art digital projection system in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium. Developed, created, and produced entirely by Observatory staff with the help of outside experts, this effort will be housed in a new animation facility at the Griffith Observatory Satellite. Expected launch is late 2018/early 2019.


School Field Trip Program
This ongoing STEM program provides students and their teachers with a broad immersion in astronomy and observing, with a tour of the Observatory, a specially-produced planetarium show in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, and a live, interactive program in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater that discusses the components of life. FOTO has paid for this free program since 2008.


Traveling Telescopes
Griffith Observatory wants to bring the excitement and fascination of the sky to a wider audience in southern California. With space discoveries in the news each week, the timing for development of this program could not be better. FOTO wants to support this initiative, which will bring telescopes and operators to camps, schools, and local parks, for discussions and viewings.


Technical and Human Resources
Thanks to FOTO, Griffith Observatory can now expand and share its live and archived programming with a global audience via Griffith Observatory TV. And often, the Observatory will have a need for technical or human support that isn’t covered in the City budget. At that point, FOTO steps in with financial support.


We welcome your interest and support of The Atlas Fund for Griffith Observatory. If you work for a company which has an interest in supporting science education OR you personally would like to inspire young minds with a fascination about what’s up in the sky, please get in touch with us!


See you up the hill!

Executive Director's Report

by Camille Lombardo, Executive Director


TEN YEARS and COUNTING - Where were you on November 3, 2006?

That’s when Griffith Observatory opened its doors to the public after nearly five years of renovation and expansion. Yes, 10 YEARS AGO!!! Seems like just yesterday, doesn’t it? It is easy to forget how much has changed in those years. So, here’s a walk down memory lane.

BY RESERVATION ONLY. Remember when the only access to Griffith Observatory was on shuttles? That first year we hosted 575,000 visitors. This year we expect to host 1.5 million people!

CENTERED IN THE UNIVERSE. Our single signature planetarium show remains our signature planetarium show. Over the years we produced a dedicated show for the School Field Trip Program, Water is Life, and three others: Galileo, Time’s Up, and Light of the Valkyries. To date, over 3.7 million people have seen a show in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium.


COSMIC MUSINGS. FOTO’s membership lecture series launched almost immediately. We have presented over 60 internationally recognized speakers on topics ranging from NASA’s Mars Exploration program in 2007 to our most recent lecture on gravitational waves emanating from black holes.


SOCIAL MEDIA. Not even a glimmer in our eyes when we reopened, FOTO and Griffith Observatory now have a social media presence on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Livestream that significantly expands our gold standard of astronomical accuracy beyond our hilltop reach of 1.5 million visitors per year from around the world to engaging with a global audience.

GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY TV. Through the generous contributions of our supporters, FOTO has funded the capability to live stream special events like the Transit of Mercury, lunar eclipses, partial solar eclipses, and NASA mission launches and landings worldwide. Reuters, NASA, and national media outlets often stream our broadcasts for their audiences.

SAMUEL OSCHIN PLANETARIUM UPGRADED TO 8K PROJECTION SYSTEM. We all know how quickly technology progresses, so when the original laser projection system began to fail after eight years of nearly continuous use, we were happy to transform the Samuel Oschin Planetarium with the most up-to-date equipment in the universe.

FREE SCHOOL FIELD TRIP PROGRAM AND BUS SCHOLARSHIPS. Since reopening, 242,121 fifth-graders have participated in the free program funded by FOTO. Of those, about 25,000 have received Bus Scholarships that provide the transportation to get to the Observatory, again funded by FOTO.

These are just the highlights. There’s also the very popular, first Friday of the month All Space Considered, the first screening of a full-length film, Star Trek Beyond, in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater, the creation of a temporary animation studio in the Boeing classroom, private trips to Mt. Wilson to look through the 60-inch telescope, numerous trips to exotic places like Indonesia and the South Pacific for total solar eclipses and to Iceland and Greenland for northern lights. How much does all this cost, you ask? Since reopening in late 2006, FOTO has raised millions of dollars for direct support of Griffith Observatory.

Watch these pages, your email, and mailers for upcoming events in which you can stay connected to FOTO and Griffith Observatory.


Star Trek Beyond

By Camille Lombardo, FOTO Executive Director


It was a special evening for a lot of reasons. It was a private screening of Star Trek Beyond, the latest addition to the Star Trek franchise. It was held on the Paramount Pictures Studios lot. It honored Leonard and Susan Bay Nimoy for their generous contributions to Friends Of The Observatory and Griffith Observatory. And it was an opportunity for FOTO members and their friends to sit in Captain Kirk’s command chair and share a truly galactic experience.


On July 22, 2016 guests entered the Paramount Theatre decorated with costumes from the film. Before the movie began, FOTO Board President Richard Semler, FOTO Executive Director Camille Lombardo, and David Ryu, our Los Angeles City Councilmember, spoke in recognition of the impact the Nimoys’ very personal support is continuing to have in ensuring Griffith Observatory’s worldwide recognition as the place for public astronomy.


Star Trek Beyond was dazzling. Spoiler alert: imagine the adventures when the Starship Enterprise is destroyed in a surprise attack by alien insect-airships soon after entering a mysterious nebula while on a rescue mission to an unknown planet. Just the right combination of personality conflicts, an evil, demonic warlord intent on revenge against a Federation slight, and amazing special effects kept everyone riveted in anticipation of how it could all be resolved. We were not disappointed.


Then, on October 24, 2016, FOTO hosted its first-ever presentation of a full-length major motion picture in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater—Star Trek Beyond!
This screening took place before the film was released in Bluray and DVD, and was made possible by a generous grant and support from Paramount Home Entertainment division. Screenwriter Doug Jung and Griffith Observatory Curator, Dr. Laura Danly, had a Q&A session before the movie. Coscreenwriter Simon Peg appeared by the magic of video from London to welcome guests.


It’s hard to stay grounded with such stellar distractions but we are so delighted to have these opportunities to stay connected with you—even if it’s across the galaxies.


By Evelyn Serrano, FOTO Volunteer


Captain’s log would describe FOTO’s Star Trek Beyond events as successful, fun, and unforgettably unique.


The Star Trek Beyond premiere at Paramount Pictures Studios on July 22nd was amazing. The entire experience was incredible. From the moment I received the parking pass, I felt like a VIP. It was a very short walk from the parking lot to the theater, but it felt amazing to be on such historic grounds. Everyone in attendance seemed excited and leapt at the opportunity to sit in the captain’s chair before heading into the theater to find their seats. The introduction was heartfelt and wonderful, and I am thankful to be able to appreciate and comprehend how much the Nimoy family has helped Griffith Observatory. After watching the movie’s heroes hurtling over colliding wreckage and into currents of artificial gravity, the night ended nicely with a colorful gift bag filled with goodies.

A Glimpse from the Dome

By Mark Pine, Deputy Director, Griffith Observatory

Some anniversaries call for stellar gifts and celebrations, while others provide a chance for reflection on what has transpired over a period of time. As Camille Lombardo noted in her article on page two, it has now been 10 years since Griffith Observatory reopened to the public after the long-awaited renovation and expansion project. Since the Observatory is owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles, Department of Recreation and Parks and funded by City residents’ property taxes, those 10 years  of public service are essentially a gift from the people of Los Angeles to the region, the nation, and the world! It has truly been an honor to be part of the Observatory team during that time.


In looking back over the last decade, I am struck by how the Observatory has provided special programming that broadens public awareness and enlightenment. For example, Dr. Danly and her staff pioneered One Small Step, a series of programs offered for each of the 40th anniversaries for the Apollo 11- 17 missions between 2009 and 2013. One consistent offering during those weekend celebrations is always “The Moon Landing: Hoax or No Hoax,” which uses the latest  observations to “prove” that people landed on the Moon. You might ask: “Why would a science institution run such a program?” Two important reasons. First, as hard as it may be to admit for those of us who lived through it, there are now two full generations of people who have no living memory of the lunar landings. Second, public surveys often show that one-fifth or more of Americans say they believe the Moon landing was a hoax.


The Observatory also held a busy, four-day series of programs in 2015 marking the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. From NASA’s standpoint, we were essentially the west-coast complement to the activities at the National Air and Space Museum. We welcomed large crowds for NASA’s Mars landing in 2012 and Pluto flyby in 2015, as well as the largest crowds ever seen at the Observatory for the flyover of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in September 2012. And day or night, we were always ready with public telescopes and useful commentary for solar eclipses and lunar eclipses. More recently, our live streams of those events (using equipment provided by FOTO) has become a go-to source for news media and tens of thousands of people around the world.


For one lunar eclipse, the Gunther Depths of Space was completely filled with people watching a live broadcast while a soaking rain poured down outside. Despite not being able to see the eclipse directly in the sky, the spirit of the crowd was so positive and infectious, it was impossible not to be caught up in it. On all these special occasions, people come to the Observatory not only to see what is going on and to learn (or celebrate) why it is important, but also to do it together. The Observatory is a civic gathering place for astronomy and Los Angeles. When things happen in the sky, people come here.


This heritage of service is recognized by the influential travel website TripAdvisor, whose users rate the Observatory as the third most popular attraction in Los Angeles out of over 500 such venues. Our visitor ratings on Facebook, Google, and Yelp are similarly impressive. And we were charmed when the TripAdvisor editors declared Griffith Observatory as one of the “Top 25 Landmarks in the United States.” The only other sites in California were the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, so we’re in some very impressive company!


None of these events or accomplishments would have been possible without our remarkable staff. We have fewer than 40 full-time programming, technical, operations, administrative, and maintenance staff, and nearly half of them have been with us since we reopened. Our 225 part-time staff are the face of the institution to the public, whether performing the shows in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, keeping the traffic moving, running the theaters, safeguarding and guiding the visitors, or making the building shine. One-fifth of them have been with us since reopening, giving us a great blend of experience and new energy. We also get support from other parts of the Department of Recreation and Parks and other Departments of the City of Los Angeles. And we couldn’t have done it all without our invaluable partner, Friends Of The Observatory. In ways big and small, each and every day, FOTO is there for the Observatory.


As we approach the 120th anniversary of the gift of Griffith Park to the citizens of Los Angeles, I believe Colonel Griffith would be very proud of the way his contributions have served the people. He would be gratified that the City and its partners (like FOTO) have invested so much in the excellence of Griffith Park, Griffith Observatory, and the Greek Theatre. Mostly, though, he would be pleased that people are using them every day, just as he had hoped.

Grady Smith Joins FOTO Board of Directors

Please join FOTO in welcoming Grady M. Smith, CFA to our Board of Directors.


Grady is senior portfolio manager and vice president at Dimensional Fund Advisors and a member of their Investment Strategies group. He earned a BA in economics from Stanford University in 1978, an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management in 2001 (Harold M. Williams Fellow), and is a CFA Charterholder.


Grady has enjoyed a lifelong relationship with Griffith Observatory. His first view through a telescope was of Saturn, through the Observatory’s Zeiss refractor – and he was hooked. During a subsequent childhood spent behind the eyepiece of a telescope, living both in L.A. and in the mountains near Yosemite, he would frequently call the Observatory’s staff to ask questions and would anxiously await the arrival of the Griffith Observer. While majoring in economics at Stanford University, he continued to enjoy a relationship with the sciences, including coursework in astronomy and related subjects of interest. As an avocation in adult life, he has maintained an ongoing love for the sciences, particularly astronomy, and has led stargazing parties at campgrounds and other dark sky locations over the years. More recently he has appreciated the opportunity to reconnect with Griffith Observatory, and looks forward to supporting its continuing science education efforts.

Events and Registration

At this moment there are no scheduled FOTO Events or Programs.


Please check back soon or click here to receive more information about our programs via email.

Your Contributions at Work
...and more! click here
FOTO Newsletter and Blog
...and more! click here
Visiting Griffith Observatory
...and more! click here
Looking up! Astronomy at Home
...and more! click here