I spent the day with Don Hall, a Morehead Planetarium assistant director and astronaut trainer from 1962 – 1968. Joining me for one interview was Richard McColman, a man who knows as much about early space missions as anyone I’ve ever met. We got to satisfy a lot of our mutual curiosity regarding training, astronaut personalities, and the Tony Jenzano era at Morehead.
Tomorrow, I will host a lunch with Don Hall, Carol “CJ” Jenzano (daughter of Tony Jenzano), Todd Boyette (current Morehead Planetarium & Science Center director), and Jim Horn (technical visionary for 30+ years at Morehead). Lunch provided will be a classic southern welcome home provided by Mama Dips.
We round out the weekend with a Sunday afternoon panel discussion with Jim Horn and Don Hall regarding Tony Jenzano’s legacy and anything our audience wants to ask about. There is still a bit of space, so RSVP right away for our 3 PM session in Morehead Planetarium’s State Dining Room.
Morehead Planetarium & Science Center director Todd Boyette is my friend and has been for years. Over a cup of holiday cheer in December 2016, I told him I wanted to write books about Morehead. He agreed that too many of our stories are untold and encouraged me to chase these stories. Todd promised (and delivered) archival access, staff support, and even a budget for travel and research. With his support, I’ve been on a quest to tell the world about this gemstone embedded in the heart of North Carolina.
The core of our astronauts-visiting-Chapel-Hill story is Tony Jenzano.
He was the man who proposed to NASA that Morehead Planetarium create and deliver astronaut training from the very beginning of the astronaut program. NASA (and the astronauts) appreciated the training so much, Morehead’s contract was renewed from 1960 – 1975. All of this was going on in the sleepy southern town of Chapel Hill, NC. Nobody knew astronauts had come for training until they were already gone.
The training saved astronaut lives.
And just as cool as saving astronauts sounds, what about all those times Tony went bowling with astronauts or had them over for dinner? Or had them come sit out with him on his front porch?
Interviews with astronauts like Jim Lovell and Story Musgrave have led to exciting moments, but some of the best interviews have been with former and current employees and with Tony’s daughter.
On January 20 and 21, we’ll be interviewing Don Hall, former assistant director and educator who trained over fifty astronauts in the 1960’s. Two other special guests will be there: Jim Horn, the man who for years told me “Tony stories” and infused me with curiosity, and CJ Jenzano, Tony’s daughter who still remembers when she sat with her family and astronauts on her front porch.