Did I Ever Tell you How the “3-2-1 Contact” Theme Was Created?

If you’re anything like me, you likely benefited more from science-themed television shows and science museums than from actually learning about it in school. As a school subject, I hated science, but as a practical topic outside the classroom, I loved it. I love the concept of science as taught to me by the Franklin Institute, planetariums, MacGyver, and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Yes, MacGyver. The man is an educational hero of impractical science.

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Before all of this (and before Bill Nye ever had a show), one show I used to watch (and enjoy) as a kid was 3-2-1 Contact, which was produced by the Children’s Television Workshop and aired on PBS from January 14, 1980 until November 18, 1988, for 225 episodes and eight specials. In its original concept (the first season), the show was about three college-age students, Liz, Marc, and Trini, who meet in an on campus room called “the workshop” to socialize and discuss science. You know, normal college kid stuff.

The show rotated hosts and meet up locations, but the concept never changed – it wanted to teach us science. And it succeeded in this venture. When I was in high school the lessons were still relevant, and I had a Chemistry teacher who showed us tapes that the high school kept on hand in the library. And if we don’t always remember the lessons we learned from watching the episodes, the one thing we could possibly never forget is that incredible theme song.

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Who didn’t do the countdown? Who didn’t yell “CONTACT!” on cue? Who didn’t learn something from watching this show…even on the recorded tapes in high school science?

This show knew how to suck in the audience – it taught science the way it should be taught – educating while entertaining, speaking on the level kids wanted to be spoken to…and even luring us in with that earworm of a theme song.

But what you may or may not remember (I certainly don’t – I wasn’t born in 1980) was that in the pilot episode, the show taught us its first very important lesson…the science of recording music. That’s right, we learned the science of a recording session for – brace yourself – the 3-2-1 Contact theme song.

I kid you not, on January 14, 1980, this was a thing, and yes, it’s on You Tube.

Prepare to be amazed.

So, let’s make contact…with the play button!

You NEED to see/hear this to believe it!

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Now, sing along with me…






Oh the feels of nostalgic youth!

Allison is no stranger to the feels of nostalgic youth – she not only contributes this for the readers here, but also at her blog, Allison’s Written Words. If you like what you see here, and would like her stuff popping up in your Facebook newsfeed, make “contact” with her blog on Facebook. Another place you can make “contact” with her? Twitter, where she is known as @AllisonGeeksOut.

She knows the code word…shouldn’t you?

Sliding Across The Solar System

I recently rejoined the Planetary Society, after a long, long time away. It’s not that I cooled on the idea of exploring other worlds – anyone who has friended me on Facebook or followed me on Twitter knows that I spent 2015 crowing about New Horizons swinging past Pluto, possibly even more than I mentioned my kids.

One of the reasons I joined again was to get the Society’s amazing quarterly newsletter, primarily so I could immediately hand the physical copies of it to my oldest son, because he loves stars, planets, moons, and the spacecraft that visit them as much as I do. Doesn’t this mean I’m not getting the newsletter? Nope – members can download a digital copy anytime they like. They can even download back issues.

In the course of trawling through those back issues, I ran across an order form that fired long-dormant synapses and took me back to my own space-soaked childhood.


Oh, those slide sets. I ordered them all. All. of. them.

Produced by Holiday Films, the slide sets could be purchased with or without an accompanying cassette tape (which would include tones to trigger some automatic slide projectors to change slides).

Other people had 35mm slides of their family vacations. Me too, assuming you were talking about vacations that happened in my head as I was clinging tenaciously to Voyager 1’s magnetometer boom as it zipped past Jupiter in 1979, or as I was sitting on top of Viking 1, watching it take the first pictures from the surface of Mars. And…yes, you guessed it, I once took a vacation all the way to Uranus.

Mars Slides - No Flash - Earl Green

In the days before the internet, this was how members of the public got their hands on NASA imagery – it was either ordering slide sets like these, or waiting the two-or-three months of lead time that it took for an article to be published about a recent mission in Astronomy or National Geographic.

Similar ads also appeared in Astronomy Magazine, along with ads hawking NASA mission patches, and I fell into that hobby too. (I’m still there.) Armed with a second-hand slide projector, and a smaller slide viewer that had the handy side-effect of bearing more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Spock’s hooded science station viewer from Star Trek, I was off on my vacation through the solar system on a regular basis.

These days, of course, you can hop online and look at raw photos almost as soon as they’re transmitted back to Earth. In my adolescence, staring at slides from NASA missions was a seriously geeky pastime; these days, there are meetups and tweetups and that seriously geeky pastime is considered by more than a few people to be cool. (One NASA mission, Juno, will arrive at Jupiter in July 2016, and NASA is allowing the public to nominate targets at which to point the on-board “Junocam“.)

But once upon a time, when you were a geeky kid in Arkansas, you just had to place a few mail orders to slide across the solar system.

Below are some links to help you and yours begin your vacation through the solar system…without any mail order wait time.

Curiosity (Mars) raw image server: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/raw/
Opportunity (Mars) raw image server: http://mars.nasa.gov/mer/gallery/images.html
Mars Express (Mars) raw image server: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Missions/Mars_Express/%28class%29/image?mission=Mars+Express&keyword=+–%253E+Keyword&idf=+–%253E+ID&Ic=on&subm3=GO
Dawn (Asteroid Belt) raw image server: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/
Rosetta (Comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko) raw image server): http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Missions/Rosetta/%28class%29/image?mission=Rosetta&type=I
Cassini (Saturn) raw image server: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/photos/raw/
New Horizons (Pluto and beyond) raw image server: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/soc/Pluto-Encounter/
Planetary Society: http://www.planetary.org

Enjoy some 1978 Space Fun with this episode of NOVA “Final Frontier”

As a kid, any day at school where we got to watch a movie or a video of any kind, was a good day. I had a Math teacher who was obsessed with the Space Program and the Shuttles in particular. He was the first one to show us this amazing episode of PBS’s NOVA, “The Final Frontier”, but he was not the last. He had recorded it off TV and his copy of the tape must have made it into our schools library of things to show in classic, because for the next few years I saw this wonderful show AT LEAST once a year, often more.

The program begins with a great ode to Star Trek with some footage of the new shuttle, Enterprise. Then they describes the commercial possibilities arising from the capabilities of the Space Shuttle Enterprise, such as extraterrestrial mining and construction, solar power stations and space colonies. Much of it was pie in the sky and I loved every minute of it.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, you can watch the whole episode online. Enjoy.

View Hundreds of Apollo Mission Photos Online

The Project Apollo Archive is a long running multimedia and info source for NASA’s Apollo Missions. Recently they took things up a notch in reaching out to the greater internet by posting their amazing collection of photos on Flickr for the world to browse and boy is it a lot to browse. Hundreds of photos spanning from Apollo 7-17 all scanned in high-resolution, many of them absolutely stunning, all of them fascinating. So if are a science or history buff, drop on by the Project Apollo Archive and enjoy.

The Space Platform

I used to gobble up space concept art like this when I was a kid. Here you see the concept for the “Space Platform”, which would have been an unmanned experiment platform in space that was serviced by the brand new Space Shuttle. For more info about the Space Platform, check out the book, “Automatic Control in Space 1982: Proceedings of the Ninth IFAC/ESA Symposium”. Which has a ton of technical information as well as cool diagrams like this one.


Jack Horkheimer: The Star Gazer

In my younger days during the 1990s while I channel surfed (we loved that term back then) late at night there were a few shows that I’d catch irregularly that are forever embedded on my brain. One of them was “The Star Gazer” (originally called The Star Hustler) staring an interesting man named Jack Horkheimer. Mr. Horkheimer wasn’t a traditional TV star. A portly dude wearing a windbreaker, sporting a mustache, and speaking in a soft voice wasn’t what one would think of as someone who would be the centerpiece of a national television series, but he was all over PBS stations across the nation.

If you’re not familiar with The Star Gazer, basically you’d be watching PBS at night and this very distinctive music would kick in, The Star Gazer himself would show up, tell you what you’d expect to see outside during a certain time frame while he stood in outer space, and then he’d sign off with his catchphrase, “Keep looking up.”

And it was awesome.

The Star Gazer was dedicated to “naked eye” astronomy, which is what you can see in the night sky without the aid of the telescope (if you were lucky enough to live in a place where you can see the stars, sorry big city folks). Each episode only lasted five minutes a piece. Again, something that isn’t normal in the world of 30 minute or an hour-long episode chunks.

Who was The Star Gazer? That was Jack Horkheimer who was a pretty interesting dude. He was born in 1938 in Randolph, Wisconsin and got a Science degree at Purdue University. He eventually he found his way to Miami where he volunteered at Miami Science Museum planetarium. He eventually became the director of the planetarium, which shows that volunteering can pay off. Jack managed to turn the planetarium into a money-maker by changing it from a straight up science lecture into something more entertaining by incorporating lights, narration, and music which would be replicated at many other planetariums. Fun fact: Famous talk show host Sally Jessy Raphael was a voice in his show at one point.

One notable fact about Jack Horkheimer was that he struggled with respiratory problems almost his whole life. You really couldn’t tell by watching Star Gazer though. His excitement for astronomy overcame any physical ailments.

Unfortunately Jack Horkheimer, the Star Gazer, is no longer with us. He passed away in 2010, but he leaves behind some fond memories. And hopefully he inspired many of us to take a look out at the night sky.

The show lives on as Star Gazers. Jack was such a powerful presence that it takes two
guys to fill his shoes on Star Gazers.

One thing I love about Star Gazer is that it’s an underground form of nostalgia. It’s not something you might think of, but if someone says to you, “Hey, remember that show on PBS about astronomy hosted by the guy with the mustache?” You immediately respond with an excited rush of memories and say, “Oh yeah! That guy!” In the case of my girlfriend her response was, “You mean the guy that had the woo woo woo music? That used to creep me out.” Okay, not all of us react the same way, but it’s fun when you find out someone used to watch The Stargazer too. Heck, even during 1997 when I was a senior in High School (with relatively no internet), I wasn’t sure that anyone else besides myself had seen the series. It wasn’t until I became semi-friends with this guy that we both geeked out over the series. It was like a nostalgic bond over a show that was still airing.

Speaking of the music from Star Gazer, here’s the full thing theme song. It’s by Isao Tomita and it’s called Arabesque No. 1. If you think the first part is unique, just wait until the 1 minute 20 second mark.

While Jack Horkheimer is gone he is not forgotten. Sometimes when I’m looking at a starry sky, I think of Jack floating around up there and telling the world to, “Keep Looking Up.”

How does a Touch-Tone phone fight background noise interference?

My father worked for the telephone company and he would occasionally demonstrate how phones worked. One lesson I remember is how you could use sound to dial phone numbers. I was pretty young, so this seemed like magic to me, but my sister who was older, wiser and more inquisitive asked if it was possible for the phone to hear a noise and dial a number by mistake. He explained how this was not easy because when you pushed the button you were actually “hearing” two tones being played at the same time.

I had always remember him saying this, but never really delved deeper into what he meant until yesterday when I was reading an old copy of Popular Mechanics and found this explanation that sums up the lesson I think he was trying to teach us.