Interview With Mr. Urmston On The Old Astronomy Course

Jackson Chapin ‘20

Mr. Ben Urmston, who teaches engineering and aviation science this year, accepted an interview about the astronomy class he used to teach at Berkshire. This December he will apply to be an astronaut for NASA which accepted 12 of its 18,300 applicants in 2016. This will be the last time he is able to apply because of their age restrictions.

Green and Gray: What was the curriculum of the astronomy course like?

Mr. Urmston: We focused on topics applicable to everyday life on Earth. This included identifying constellations and stars to determine north and south. We didn’t focus as much on the outer cosmos. I have often had to use the stars as my compass while on sailing expeditions.

G&G: Why did the class discontinue?

BU: Lots of students signed up, but it died out because engineering stole its interest.

G&G: When you taught, did you use the observatory?

BU: No. When I taught, the observatory was under construction. Also, the observatory is a very difficult tool to operate. It takes a full-fledged astronomer to operate the whole observatory. This year I plan to open up the observatory on clear nights to quench students’ thirst for the cosmos.

G&G: Did you have night classes?

BU: Yes. We met once a week from 8-9 at night to look at constellations and star maps.

G&G: What was the most fun part?

BU: The weather balloon. This is a day trip where we release a balloon high into the sky and let the weather lead it away from Berkshire. We then get into a van and track it down. Hooksett New Hampshire, which is 3.5 hours northeast by car, is the furthest it has ever gone. I plan to organize another weather balloon adventure this year.

Mr. Urmston says that if enough interest returns, astronomy could become an elective once again. Until then, look out for the potential observatory opening and weather balloon quest.


Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity,