Photo of Michael G. Neece wearing a suit, smiling, with a starry background.

This site is devoted to the history of astronaut training at Morehead Planetarium (and Science Center). I am Michael Neece and I write public history, children’s books, and YA novels from my home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where I live with my wife and three children. I present constellation shows at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center under the same dome where NASA astronauts once trained. I am confident that children will guide us to the stars as long as we feed their curiosity and teach them kindness.

I recently wrote my first Morehead history book in the form of this children’s book, released on September 1, 2020:

CoverThis children’s picture book, Tony Jenzano, Astronaut Trainer: The Man Who Made the Stars Shine, illuminates the life story of the Morehead Planetarium director who oversaw NASA astronaut training in celestial navigation from 1960 – 1975. It’s perfect for grades 2 through 5 for read-aloud time, biography reports, and wax museum projects. Order directly from the distributor, UNC Press, or look for it at a bookseller of choice, like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

“This beautifully illustrated book by Michael G. Neece brilliantly captures a chapter in the history of the Morehead Planetarium. But it does so much more – it’s a story of commitment, courage, learning and the imagination. The bonds formed between museum director Tony Jenzano, Morehead Planetarium, and an amazing roster of famous astronauts were profound and lasting, and played a major role in sending the first Americans into space.”

Mary Pope Osborne, author of the Magic Tree House Series

“Michael Neece’s exploration of Tony Jenzano’s life and work illuminates the role that a local institution can play in the world, as well as bringing well-deserved attention to a unsung figure in space exploration.”

— Palmer Smith, elementary school librarian in Chapel Hill, NC

Critical to the book are the warm, deep, realistic illustrations created by  Benlin Alexander, a professional illustrator living in Raleigh, NC.

The Educator’s Guide for the book is posted

Are you looking for a book that ties ELA, Social Studies, Science, and Art together but you need to know more? Check back here for the downloadable teacher’s guide soon or sign up for an email notification by clicking here.

Do you have questions about Jenzano’s story, about the author, or about the illustrator? Reach out and ask!

During my research for this book, I met amazing people, found other surprising stories and personalities. For a closer look, check out my blog.

My next projects:

  • A history of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center from the 1920’s through today
  • Revising a YA alternate history novel I wrote 3 years ago and shelved
  • An adaptation of Morehead Planetarium & Science Center’s wildly popular planetarium show Earth, Moon, and Sun in the form of a children’s picture book.

To learn more about me, please check out my author’s bio

During the era of Covid-19, please support your local planetariums and science museums if you can, through donations, the purchase of a membership for yourself or as a gift to give to others during the holidays. Morehead Planetarium conducts outreach to all 100 NC counties, so supporting them supports your local community.

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