Before Tomás Cabrera came to Carnegie Mellon University, he served as a missionary in Denver with Christ in the City, working with people suffering from homelessness and the isolation that comes with it.
“In this population, there are a lot of veterans,” said the third-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Physics. “The experience gave me a better idea of the different types of social needs in the world.”
Because of his experience, Cabrera is one of many members of the Carnegie Mellon community to participate in a new project designed to help veterans reach for the stars.
The Pittsburgh Veterans Health System HJ Heinz III Campus in O’Hara Township is the first VA hospital in the United States to install an observatory on its campus. Cabrera along with other Carnegie Mellon students and Diane Turnshek, a lecturer in the Department of Physics, will be among the volunteers who will help VA hospital patients use the telescope and give lectures on topics such as the telescope. space James Webb, black holes, Saturn and solar eclipses.
“We’ll do science, but it’s also about being another person in these veterans’ lives that they can talk to. Astronomy is the vehicle to get us in there,” Cabrera said. “My great hopes for this are that it will enrich and improve the quality of people’s lives.”
The Astronomy for Disabled Veterans project, responsible for the new observatory, is led by James Surman, a certified hospital management consultant and fourth-degree Knight of Columbus. Surman worked with Nick Haller, who was then the associate head nurse at the VA Pittsburgh Community Living Center (retirement home).
“The project was inspired by Dr. Alan Teo, a psychiatrist in the veterans health care system, who has studied loneliness and depression as factors in veterans’ mental health,” Surman said.
Surman, along with a dedicated team of Knights of Columbus Assembly 0940 members, raised $31,000 to build the observatory, which includes an electronic sliding roof. Additionally, the Association of Amateur Astronomers of Pittsburgh (AAAP) and Carnegie Mellon provide ongoing volunteers and expertise to the project.
The building houses a Celestron telescope preprogrammed with the coordinates of hundreds of celestial objects. Although the observatory is wheelchair accessible, images from the telescope are also transmitted to an indoor meeting room at the Veterans Recovery Center so patients can view activity on a 65-inch screen. One of the goals is to have equally trained veterans to operate the equipment.
Surman said that in the future, other VA hospitals could use the local program as a model.
The observatory celebrated a groundbreaking and inauguration ceremony and a star party on October 14.
“The idea of an observatory for veterans is spectacular,” Turnshek said. “It’s an idea that will potentially spread to other campuses in the VA system.”
Turnshek, who is also a member of AAAP, learned about the project when she overheard Surman discussing the idea at a meeting several years ago. She then approached him with an offer of help. In addition to volunteers, Carnegie Mellon also provided books and videos for an astronomy library at the hospital.
“It’s all his ideas, like the observatory and a set of training courses based on astronomy and what the telescope would see,” said Turnshek, who actively teaches astronomy to the public and advises the Carnegie Mellon Astronomy Club. .
Another AAAP volunteer, Rich Dollish, hosted stargazing parties and worked to finalize the telescope set-up. He agreed with Cabrera on the hope that people will be enriched by the telescope and the connections it can make, both on Earth and with the night sky.
“Depression and isolation are a big problem among veterans. Although it’s a great facility, a lot of the staff go home at 5 p.m. In the evenings, residents don’t have much for them. occupy,” he said. “I just want them to appreciate the beauty of everything around them.”