SAC’s Voice of the Stars to Retire
In 1969, just months after astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first landed on the moon, Bob Kelley made his first visit to the San Antonio College Planetarium (now the Scobee Planetarium) as a member of the John Jay High School Astronomy Club. The 15-year-old student was captivated by the experience which would in turn chart the course for his adult life.
On Jan. 27, Kelley retires from the Scobee Planetarium after a 39-year career, the last eight years spent as coordinator of the cosmic theater. During that time, he has been a part of 13,000 shows presented to about a million audience members.
For Kelley, it has been a labor of love.
After that first visit, Kelley returned several times and struck up a friendship with Jack Howarth, the director of the planetarium. After one visit, he asked Howarth where he should consider going to college to learn about astronomy and planetarium science. Howarth introduced Kelley to two men who were visiting that night from Pan American University in Edinburg. They told Kelley that Pan American had the academic programs he was looking for.
Kelley enrolled at Pan American and was soon learning how to produce his own planetarium shows - from writing scripts and recording narration to creating graphics and other effects.
In 1977, Kelley began his career search and his first stop was the SAC planetarium. Brian Snow was the planetarium director at the time. He was also one of the men Kelley had first talked to about college programs. Snow offered Kelley a temporary position and, in January 1978, hired him as the planetarium's assistant director.
He was back producing shows - writing scripts, recording audio, creating visuals, and maintaining the elaborate equipment.
Kelley's duties soon expanded. He became a resource for students who had astronomy questions and he also was in charge of the telescope at the campus observatory.
Since 2014, when the SAC planetarium joined with the Scobee Education Center, Kelley sometimes serves as a flight director in mission control during simulated trips into space.
Looking back, Kelley said the biggest change to the planetarium has been in the way the shows are produced. In the beginning, the shows relied on slides and film projectors. He shared one secret from those early years, a red gel in a baby food jar could be used to simulate a sunset.
Now the shows are contained entirely on computers which use
, a sophisticated program, to display the programs in 4k resolution.
But as Kelley points out, "the same old magic that I experienced in 1969 is still here."
The people, especially the students who visited the Planetarium, will be missed the most said Kelley. "So many wonderful things have happened inside the Planetarium, that I am going out the door with a treasure chest full of memories."
One recent memory that stands out is a brief conversation he had with a young woman during an evening event.
"The woman said 'aren't you the guy that runs the Planetarium?' I said yes," recalls Kelley. The woman said as a little girl, her mother brought her to the Planetarium to see several shows. But she really didn't remember much about them.
"I was crestfallen," said Kelley. "Then she added 'but to me you were always the voice of the stars.'"
After retiring, Kelley said he plans to travel to Alaska and may relocate in the state. He added that he may even volunteer at the Challenger Center in Anchorage.