Rolling Oaks Observatory
Astronomy is one of those things that I've intermittently delved into over the past 50 years. When I was working on the Apollo Program, in the mid-60's, I started grinding an 8" mirror in my garage. It was a typical setup for the time - 55 gallon drum (water filled for stability) and a marine plywood top where the mirror blank was held in place by oak cleats. I had the mirror rough ground to the design radius when I was sent on what was supposed to be an extended trip to Downey, California. One of my coworkers there was an amateur astronomer and introduced me to the North American Aviation Employees Activity Center Astronomy Lab. The lab had several mirror grinding machines, complete with cast iron tools for various mirror diameters and curvatures, so I bought an 8" blank and started grinding. As luck would have it, I got well into grinding and got a call to report back to the Houston facility. Neither the hand or machine ground mirrors ever got completed.
After Apollo we moved to Austin where one of my coworkers was an avid astronomer. He introduced me to the Austin Astronomical Society where I regularly attended meetings and served a term on the Board of Directors. Another friend gave me a homebrew 3" Newtonian that I used for back yard visual observing on a plumbing pipe equatorial mount. In 1975 we moved out to our five acres in Driftwood and I picked up a 6" Newtonian and a couple of fairly good eyepieces to take advantage of the, what was then, very dark skies. I was still only doing casual visual observing.
I retired in 2001 and stayed busy with my amateur radio and beer brewing hobbies until one day, in late 2011, I saw an 8" SCT for sale on Craig's List. It was an older Meade on an LXD500B motor-driven, non-goto equatorial mount. I had no experience with commercial equatorial mounts, much less one that was motor driven. The price was right so I bought it. The setup was fine for visual observing but I really wanted to try some astrophotography. Being an absolute novice in that area, I had no idea where all of this was going to lead.
By this time I had the bug really bad! I knew I needed a "better" mount but didn't have enough experience to separate the wheat from the chaff. I bought another mount, a Meade LXD75 with GOTO electronics, still not understanding that the "Department Store" class of mounts were just not good enough for astrophotography. About two weeks of setting up and aligning the mount (on a tripod) convinced me that a permanent pier was needed. And, by the way, why not just put the whole thing in an observatory? I built a 10' X 10' building with a concrete pier and topped it off with a homebuilt 8' dome. I added a DSLR camera to my system and started taking astrophotos. Read more ...