Catch the replay and tell your friends! Livestream from Chapel Hill: Why this Story Matters

Michael G. Neece broadcasted live from his home in Chapel Hill tonight, telling why North Carolina Skies: Tales of Astronauts in Chapel Hill matters in today’s world, and took questions.

Questions were asked (see answers below).


Alyssa asked how the Apollo astronauts were trained. The 37 guidance and navigation stars that were required knowledge for all of the later astronauts (Mercury astronauts had to know 57!), those were identified repeatedly during their trainings. They looked through a simulated port/window that restricted their field of view to just 60 degrees and they would have to align 2 or 3 stars exactly within that field of view, identifying them by name, and then type in those stars and positions into the guidance computers when they were actually on a mission. When there were rendezvous considerations or course-correction burns, they’d also have to train for those specifically knowing in advance of ever going on the mission itself so that it would already be familiar and easy to conjure up the knowledge.

If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me at info@michaelgneece.com.

Michael G. Neece Speaks tonight at UNCW (with Livestream)

At 7:15 PM (ET) in tonight’s address to the Cape Fear Astronomical Society on the campus of UNCW, writer Michael G. Neece will share the origins of the astronaut training program at Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill plus insider stories of astronaut visits.
Map: https://goo.gl/maps/7nGRa85USKk (Parking lots C and D should allow for anytime parking on weekends and both are immediately adjacent to DeLoach Hall.)

Live stream: https://goo.gl/3TsDPZ

Photograph of Col. Cage, Scott Carpenter (in a Link trainer), Wally Schirra, and Morehead astronaut trainer James Batten. Photo courtesy of UNC Photographic Lab via Wilson Library digital collection.

Astronauts Came to Morehead for 15 Years

Photograph above: Col. Cage, Scott Carpenter (in a Link trainer), Wally Schirra, and Morehead astronaut trainer James Batten. Photo courtesy of UNC Photographic Lab via Wilson Library digital collection.

After NASA astronaut training had been going on for a handful of years at Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill, the Manned Spacecraft Center became the hub of activity for astronauts, thus they spent far less time in Langley, VA and much more time in Houston, TX. Morehead was more remote for the astronauts from then on. So why keep the training at Morehead for another dozen years? Why not just shift celestial navigation and stellar identification training to another facility in Houston?

Find out more when my book comes out next year!

And for all you Tar Heel fans out there, President Bill Friday in the mix:

Tony Jenzano (Morehead director), Gus Grissom (Mercury 7 astronaut), Bill Friday (UNC President), Deke Slayton (Mercury 7 astronaut), James Batten (Morehead astronaut trainer), and Jim Wadsworth (Morehead astronaut trainer). Sheet Film 19213, in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Photographic Laboratory Collection #P0031, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Tony Jenzano (Morehead director), Gus Grissom (Mercury 7 astronaut), Bill Friday (UNC President), Deke Slayton (Mercury 7 astronaut), James Batten (Morehead astronaut trainer), and Jim Wadsworth (Morehead astronaut trainer). Sheet Film 19213, in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Photographic Laboratory Collection #P0031, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
NASA press conference with New Nine astronauts and NASA officials in 1963. Photo courtesy of UNC Photographic Laboratories and Morehead Planetarium and Science Center Archives.

Speaking Engagements

Last month, I moderated a panel with Jim Horn, a technical visionary who worked at Morehead Planetarium for thirty years, and Don Hall, first Assistant Director of Morehead Planetarium and man who trained more than fifty astronauts at our facility.

I have been invited recently to speak to two astronomy groups in North Carolina about Tony Jenzano impact as thirty-year director at Morehead Planetarium. The first is the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society (CHAOS) in February. The second is the Cape Fear Astronomical Society with the date likely to be in April or May. I am honored by these invitations.

The picture above clearly is not me speaking – it’s Tony Jenzano addressing the press while standing alongside the New Nine and NASA officials during a press conference at Morehead Planetarium in 1963. Photo courtesy of UNC North Carolina Digital Collection.

Don Hall, Astronaut Trainer

Don Hall (left), former Morehead Planetarium assistant director and astronaut trainer 1962 - 1968 with Michael G. Neece (right)
Don Hall (left), former Morehead Planetarium assistant director and astronaut trainer 1962 – 1968 with Michael G. Neece (right)

I spent the day with Don Hall, a Morehead Planetarium assistant director and astronaut trainer from 1962 – 1968. Joining me for one interview was Richard McColman, a man who knows as much about early space missions as anyone I’ve ever met. We got to satisfy a lot of our mutual curiosity regarding training, astronaut personalities, and the Tony Jenzano era at Morehead.

Fulldome Theater Manager, Richard McColman (left) sits with former assistant director Don Hall (right) examining a diagram of the Zeiss VI.
Fulldome Theater Manager, Richard McColman (left) sits with former assistant director Don Hall (right) examining a diagram of the Zeiss VI.

Tomorrow, I will host a lunch with Don Hall, Carol “CJ” Jenzano (daughter of Tony Jenzano), Todd Boyette (current Morehead Planetarium & Science Center director), and Jim Horn (technical visionary for 30+ years at Morehead). Lunch provided will be a classic southern welcome home provided by Mama Dips.

We round out the weekend with a Sunday afternoon panel discussion with Jim Horn and Don Hall regarding Tony Jenzano’s legacy and anything our audience wants to ask about. There is still a bit of space, so RSVP right away for our 3 PM session in Morehead Planetarium’s State Dining Room.

Don Hall (left), Morehead Planetarium assistant director and astronaut trainer from 1962 - 1968 with Michael G. Neece (right)

How This All Got Started

Morehead Planetarium & Science Center director Todd Boyette is my friend and has been for years. Over a cup of holiday cheer in December 2016, I told him I wanted to write books about Morehead. He agreed that too many of our stories are untold and encouraged me to chase these stories. Todd promised (and delivered) archival access, staff support, and even a budget for travel and research. With his support, I’ve been on a quest to tell the world about this gemstone embedded in the heart of North Carolina.

The core of our astronauts-visiting-Chapel-Hill story is Tony Jenzano.

He was the man who proposed to NASA that Morehead Planetarium create and deliver astronaut training from the very beginning of the astronaut program. NASA (and the astronauts) appreciated the training so much, Morehead’s contract was renewed from 1960 – 1975. All of this was going on in the sleepy southern town of Chapel Hill, NC. Nobody knew astronauts had come for training until they were already gone.

The training saved astronaut lives.

And just as cool as saving astronauts sounds, what about all those times Tony went bowling with astronauts or had them over for dinner? Or had them come sit out with him on his front porch?

Interviews with astronauts like Jim Lovell and Story Musgrave have led to exciting moments, but some of the best interviews have been with former and current employees and with Tony’s daughter.

On January 20 and 21, we’ll be interviewing Don Hall, former assistant director and educator who trained over fifty astronauts in the 1960’s. Two other special guests will be there: Jim Horn, the man who for years told me “Tony stories” and infused me with curiosity, and CJ Jenzano, Tony’s daughter who still remembers when she sat with her family and astronauts on her front porch.