DATE: Friday, June 4, 2010
TIME: 8:00 PM-11:00 PM
VENUE: Battery Park
MODERATOR: Miles O’Brien
PARTICIPANTS: Heidi Hammel, John C. Mather, Neil deGrasse Tyson

Join professional and amateur astronomers at the base of the full-scale, tennis court-sized James Webb Space Telescope model for a free evening of star-gazing in Battery Park. John Mather, Nobel laureate and the Webb telescope’s senior project scientist; John Grunsfeld, astronaut, physicist and “chief repairman” of the Hubble Telescope and planetary astronomer Heidi Hammel, with journalist Miles O’Brien moderating, will be with us to talk about the discoveries anticipated when the world’s most powerful space telescope, the successor to the Hubble, launches in 2014. Hayden Planetarium Director, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, will host the stargazing party to follow. It will be a festive evening of appreciating the vast wonders of the cosmos. Bring your telescope if you have one or plan to use one of the dozens we’ll have set up.

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Space Analyst, Journalist, Advocate

Miles O’Brien is a 26-year broadcast news veteran with a lifelong passion for aviation, space and technology. In February 2003, he led CNN’s acclaimed coverage of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia, and was on the air live for 16 solid hours. Only days before (and after years of negotiations) CNN and NASA had reached an agreement that would have made O’Brien the first journalist to fly to on the space shuttle to visit the International Space Station.

O’Brien, who spent nearly 17 years at CNN, has covered every major space story in recent years, including the repair missions to the Hubble Space Telescope; the shuttle dockings at Mir; the launch of the first space station crew from Kazakhstan; several robotic landings on Mars and the private sector endeavors of Burt Rutan. His one-hour documentary on the process of readying a space shuttle for flight, Terminal Count: What it Takes to Make the Space Shuttle Fly, aired in May 2001.

Since leaving CNN O’Brien, who blogs at, has been involved with Space Flight Now streaming live webcasts of the remaining shuttle launches, and he was the correspondent for a PBS Frontline documentary on the crash of Continental #3407 and related aviation safety issues. His New York City-based production company creates, produces and distributes original content across all media platforms.


Heidi Hammel

Heidi Hammel is a noted planetary scientist. Currently, she is senior research scientist and codirector of research at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge and the University of Hawaii, she spent nearly nine years as a principal research scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at MIT.

Hammel was a member of the Imaging Science Team for the Voyager 2 spacecraft’s encounter with the planet Neptune in 1989 and led the Hubble Space Telescope’s observations of the spectacular collision of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter in 1994. Her current research focuses on studies of Neptune and Uranus with the Hubble and various Earth-based telescopes.

At every step in her career, Hammel has been passionately committed to sharing her research with the public in an engaging and accessible way. She works very closely with the Space Science Institute’s education and outreach program. Both her research and her achievements in science communication have earned her prestigious honors and awards, among them the Exploratorium’s 1998 Public Understanding of Science Award, the American Astronomical Society’s 1996 Harold C. Urey Prize, and the 2002 Carl Sagan Medal.


Nobel Laureate John Mather’s research in cosmology as part of the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) team has been recognized as some of the most important work of the 20th century. As a postdoctoral fellow at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, he led the proposal efforts for COBE. Later, he and his team showed that the cosmic microwave background radiation has a blackbody spectrum within 50 parts per million, which helped confirm the Big Bang theory of the universe. For this work, he received the Nobel Prize in physics in 2006, along with George Smoot. According to the prize committee, “the COBE project can also be regarded as the starting point for cosmology as a precision science.”

Mather is senior astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, and the Senior Project Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, the powerful successor to the great Hubble Space Telescope, planned for launch in 2018.


Neil deGrasse Tyson is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He is the author of several books and hosts the NOVA ScienceNow program on PBS.

Tyson is best known as an ardent popularizer of astronomy and astrophysics. At AMNH, he has overseen the creation of hit planetarium shows such as Cosmic Collisions. With his popular Universe column for the museum’s Natural History magazine, Tyson started a writing career that has resulted in eight books so far, most recently the best-selling Death by Black Hole.

In addition to frequent media appearances, Tyson has hosted the four-part miniseries Origins on PBS’s program NOVA. He is also the host of PBS’s educational show NOVA scienceNOW. For his contributions to science communication, Tyson has been the recipient of many awards and honors, including having an asteroid named after him and NASA’s 2004 Distinguished Public Service Medal. He has also served on two presidential commissions concerned with the aerospace industry and space exploration.