Access the night sky | Coeur d’Alene Press


Mike Christiansen has been falling headfirst down rabbit holes for as long as he can remember.

“You can never, ever figure it all out,” the Coeur d’Alene man said. “My engineering brain wants to peel everything to the core and figure out how it works.”

A topic will catch his interest, and he will be drawn to that idea as it branches out to become more complex, stronger, and brighter.

This passion and curiosity led him early in life to astronomy and his role as an aerospace enforcement officer for the Civil Air Patrol in Coeur d’Alene.

“The more you learn about the universe, the more you realize it’s not an accident,” Christiansen said. “It’s so much bigger. I just feel this connection with the size and the complexity and the meaning of it all.

Christiansen is working to establish a North Idaho Astronomy Club in Coeur d’Alene to share his passion for astronomy and the success he has seen in his life from there.

He remembers watching “Star Trek” with his father, “Star Wars” over and over, and Carl Sagan’s 1980 TV series “Cosmos: A Personal Journey.”

After being amazed by these stories, Christiansen began to consult all the astronomy books he could get his hands on in the library.

“All through high school I was interested in astronomy, until I realized it was cheap and you had to stay up all night,” he said.

It was “2010: Odyssey Two,” a 1982 science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke, that inspired him to explore engineering.

“He combined astronomy and a love of exploring planets, with designing ships to get there, and everything in between,” Christiansen said.

Each story nurtured a sense of possibility and built a fantasy for Christiansen of life in space.

“I had in my high school brain that I wanted to build spaceships, and maybe go to space one day,” he said.

So naturally, Christiansen decided to become a mechanical engineer, not realizing that engineers don’t usually fly in space.

After graduating from college, Christiansen went straight to his dream job at Boeing, working for Rocketdyne in 1996.

“We built real rocket engines,” Christiansen said. “Our engines put rovers on Mars.”

While Christiansen loved the idea of ​​building rocket engines that went into space, there was also disillusionment with his work at Rocketdyne.

Much of the engineering he was doing at this time was strictly about reworking designs to minimize cost, and he felt uninspired.

“I might have felt differently if I had worked at SpaceX,” Christiansen said. “They made spacecraft jump 100 years.”

SpaceX was founded in 2002 to design and build rockets. Among other things, they are currently working on rocket designs to enter space and then land on earth, much like an airplane might take off and later land on a runway.

This was not the case at Rocketdyne.

“There was no design, no science, no Elon Musk space,” Christiansen said.

He was able to watch rocket tests from the launch pad, a quarter of a mile away, and he remembers feeling it was so worth his job at Boeing.

“The things we did were neat, but it was factory work,” Christiansen said. “And after three years, I felt my creativity and my ambition dying.”

Disappointed that real innovation or creativity was no longer happening at Boeing, he took a job with a friend working as a financial advisor in Seattle.

He eventually took a job at a financial services firm in Loveland, Colorado, where he eventually started his own wealth management firm.

In Loveland, he almost immediately found the Little Thompson Observatory and began volunteering there. Christiansen’s son loved the observatory, where he was the second youngest volunteer to join and operate the telescope.

“Of all the things I’m going to miss, I’m going to miss the observatory,” Christiansen’s son said as they moved from Colorado in 2020 to Coeur d’Alene.

So giving up access to a telescope was a concern for Christiansen.

“We need different tools to see the sky,” he said. “Great equipment makes astronomy fun.”

When he saw the need for a telescope in the Coeur d’Alene area, Christiansen decided to purchase one to share with the community.

“You have kids for a reason and you should be involved in their activities,” Christiansen said. “I taught my sons’ soccer team because they needed a coach. I did den leader with the Cubs because they needed a dad to lead the group. And it was the same with the civil air patrol.

Civil Air Patrol is a United States Air Force auxiliary that trains students to prepare for their future, and the Aerospace Education Youth program aims to engage students in aerospace.

Jacob Pelissero, Cadet Aerospace Education Officer for Civil Air Patrol, worked with Christiansen in the Aerospace Education Youth program.

Some of his favorite experiences with the aerospace program are looking through the telescope, Pelissero said.

“Christiansen is a visionary for the program, to make sure cadets can actually take something out of the program to use in their lives,” Pelissero said.

Pelissero, who is 17 and wants to be a pilot, saw his father see Saturn’s rings for the first time.

“He always thought the images of Saturn were fake, but when he saw them for himself, he was alarmed and very happy,” Pelissero said.

Christiansen decided to start a northern Idaho astronomy club when he saw that his sons and the community needed an opportunity for space exploration.

“My mind gets stimulated when I do things with other people,” Christiansen said. “I love bringing cool stuff to the world and my community.”

Christiansen sees a hole in local access to the night sky, and he wants to share his passion with anyone who is curious.

“I don’t want to create an observatory, I just want to create public events,” he said. “These are the things that entice children into professions and hobbies.”

Christiansen feels fulfilled witnessing the amazed wonder when someone sees something for the first time through their telescope.

“Every kid is like, ‘Whoa, that’s so cool,’ over and over and over and over again,” Christiansen said. And it’s so special, he says.

“It’s a very shocking feeling because it reminds us how small we are on this earth,” Pelissero said. “Without actually seeing it, it’s hard for us to understand how we are in the universe.”

Seeing through the telescope allows Pelissero to understand the mystery of it all.

“Without a telescope in this area for people to use, people will grow up never really looking up at the sky,” Christiansen said.

And that scares him.

“Just having a telescope in the community for kids and adults to look at can be very inspiring,” Christiansen said. “Looking at the craters of the moon makes you want to walk on it. Looking at Mars makes you think we can go there.

Christiansen will begin hosting viewings for anyone who wishes to see in early 2023, weather permitting.

Cloudy weather can make planning to see the sky difficult, and logistics are a constant struggle.

But Christiansen is developing strategies to visualize the opportunities on Sherman Avenue, to show people incredible, fleeting stellar events as they unfold.

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