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    StarTalk TV: celestial navigation on National Geographic
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2017 Jun 15, 12:23 -0700

    First things first, there's still time to sign up for my "Modern Celestial Navigation" class this weekend at Mystic Seaport. This is calculator-based, slick, efficient celestial navigation for the 21st century. Details here: http://www.reednavigation.com/mod-class/. You've taken it before?? So take it again. There won't be another opportunity until late this fall. And you know it's fun!

    Now a story....

    I alluded to this in an earlier post. A couple of weeks ago, I got a phone call from the showrunner of "StarTalk", a talk-show that airs on the National Geographic channel, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. They needed an expert in celestial navigation. Sure... I'm game. So he explains more, and after a minute I ask, "you know I was a guest on his radio show a few years ago?" Nope. He did not know that, but cool! So I'm thinking this is just a small production, and I ask to make sure they will cover my parking if I drive down to New York City. Heh. I had somewhat under-estimated the scale of this thing. 

    After agreeing to join as the in-studio panel guest, I learned that the main interview guest was Nainoa Thompson, and the topic was Polynesian navigation, at an elementary level, of course. Tyson interviews his main guest before the filmed show, and then he, the panel guest (me in this case), and a professional comedian (this is a Tyson trademark for his shows) sit around and discuss the filmed interview with the principal guest. So that would be my role: to say "pithy" and interesting things about celestial navigation in a broad context and to react to Tyson and the other panel guests. I also understood that we would be joined for one twenty-minute segment by another navigation-connected guest. On the day of filming, I learned that this would be Dava Sobel, author of "Longitude".

    As the date approached, I emailed noticing that I had figured out they film late at night and saying that this worked fine for me, natural night-owl that I am. The showrunner emailed back and said we would be starting unusually late, at 11:30pm. No problem, I said. As it turned out, we didn't start filming until 12:30am, which was fine by me since it gave me time to acclimate to a much bigger production than I had expected. The show films in the main hall of the Museum of Natural History on the upper west side in Manhattan. There were a dozen cameras, including a traditional boom camera zooming around above us, and enough big screens to launch a space mission. Rather than the three or four I expected, there must have been thirty people on the production crew, and there were about forty in the live audience. I knew I was in trouble when someone called out, "They're ready for you in makeup". A nice woman from Weehawken then dusted me down, and when she said quietly, "we'll just cover that up right there...", I was thinking in my head, "great... I'm the elephant man..." Ha ha ha.

    In the episode, we watched various segments of Tyson's interview with Nainoa Thompson, and then Tyson asked me prepared questions for which I had some general words thought out and some concepts prepared to discuss. And the comedian, Maeve Higgins, would interject now and then with a joke. For example, there was a question from a viewer asking if every Solar System body would have its own equivalent of a "North Star". Tyson answered that broadly, and then I mentioned that Saturn's moon Hyperion would be an interesting exception since it is believed to have chaotic rotation. At that point Maeve made some funny comments about one of her uncles having chaotic rotation after a few beers... For Dava Sobel's segment, naturally Tyson asked her about longitude and how that might have impacted pre-instrument navigation. I mentioned something about lunars and may have stepped on her toes a bit. That will probably be edited out... It's "tv" so of course the result will be edited in untold ways, and I may well be replaced by a CGI puppet. 

    All in all, it was fascinating, harder work than I had planned on. And we didn't finish filming until 2:45am. Fortunately, they put me up in a hotel for the night and also paid for train fare. Other than that, it was unpaid work, but at least I'm hoping it may draw people to some of my future navigation classes. We'll see. At the earliest, this would air on the National Geographic channel in September as part of season 4 of StarTalk. Their regular audience numbers amount to about 200,000 per show (it is a science show on US tv, after all!). But I understand they manage about ten times that in online views. I should say that it's also possible that they will decide not to air this one as a televised episode, and it will go "straight to itunes".

    Frank Reed
    Conanicut Island USA

       
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