Clark Planetarium’s AstroVan in 1980 #tbt

Seth Jarvis

Hansen Planetarium’s AstroVan began in 1980. We convinced Hertz to sell us one of their Chevrolet “Beauville” rental vans on the cheap, and got Ken Garff to donate the original AstroVan paint job. 

The equipment we carried in the AstroVan was hand-me-down from NASA’s recently mothballed “Space Mobile” outreach program.  With the end of the Apollo era NASA was scaling way, WAY back on its education programs, and rather than junk the contents of their regional Space Mobiles they issued an RFP to interested educational institutions to see if any of them could make use of the decommissioned science demonstrations and NASA Astronaut paraphernalia.  Our proposal to take a whole van’s worth of Space Mobile equipment and make a planetarium outreach education program was accepted. It was crazy-cool stuff.  Spacesuits, space helmets, Skylab food trays, 16mm movies, tool sets, emergency survival radios, weird, huge electronics devices to demonstrate meteorite impacts and how satellites multiplex data signals, and big, highly detailed models of rockets and airplanes, etc. Elementary school kids went nuts when we had them help us unload the van when we arrived at a school.

Clark Planetarium's original AstroVan, circa 1980

Clark Planetarium’s original AstroVan, circa 1980

The _training_ we got was mind-blowing. Great lectures and hands-on training at NASA facilities around the country with Space Mobile veterans, but what I remember most is that the people NASA hired to run the Space Mobile were certifiable. The program was run by old-school guys (no women!) whose ideas about the world (especially about women) were taken from some bizarre 1950’s/60’s pre-Madmen testosterone saturated Roger Ramjet universe.  Yes, B.H., I’m talking about you.

No 8-track, just an AM radio in the dash.  We kept a little portable cassette player in the van and we’d stick it up on the dash.  First-gen AstroVanners made it a point to keep the player stocked exclusively with hard-core Reggae music. Bob Marley was on the “Reggae for Beginners” tape.  I was into Jimmy Cliff, on the “Intermediate Reggea” tape.

Don’t get me started telling “AstroVan in the early ‘80’s” stories.  They’re all true, but you’d never believe them.

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