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Dr. Linda Spilker

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Discover Saturn’s Secrets with Festival Speaker Dr. Linda Spilker

Since 2004, the Cassini mission has been uncovering the astonishing secrets and the breathtaking beauty of the Saturn system. At the StarLight Festival, NASA research scientist Dr. Linda Spilker will highlight Cassini’s decade of discoveries, which include icy jets of material streaming from the planet’s tiny moon Enceladus’ south pole, lakes of liquid hydrocarbons and methane rain on its giant moon Titan, three-dimensional structures in Saturn’s rings and curtain-like aurorae flickering over Saturn’s poles.  

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A world-renowned expert on Saturn and its rings, Dr. Spilker is the project scientist for the Cassini spacecraft mission, which has been providing invaluable insight into the Saturn system since its arrival at the giant planet in 2004. She is also a co-investigator on the Cassini Composite Infrared Spectrometer team.

Dr. Spilker, who received her Ph.D. in geophysics and space physics from UCLA, has worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 1977 and has been involved with the Cassini program for more than two decades. Although her knowledge of the Saturn system is astoundingly extensive, her particular research interests lie in the rings of Saturn and involve issues such as ring evolution, ring mass and ring dynamics.

Story Musgrave

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Astronaut Story Musgrave to Talk About Space Exploration.

53 days, 9 hours, 59 minutes ­– That is the amount of time Astronaut Story Musgrave has spent in orbit. At the StarLight Festival, Dr. Musgrave will regale attendees with the riveting highlights of his six Space Shuttle missions and his decades-long NASA career. He will also share his thoughts on the future of space exploration.

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Born in 1935 on a dairy farm in Stockbridge, Mass., Musgrave was in the forests alone at 3 and by 5 had floated his homebuilt rafts on rivers. He rode combines at 5, drove trucks and tractors at 10 and, when alone in remote fields, repaired them by 13.

In 1953, Musgrave joined the U.S. Marines, which led to a deployment to Korea. He served as an aircraft electrician and engine mechanic and eventually started flying with the Marines. Over the next 58 years, he accumulated 18,000 hours in more than 160 types of aircraft. As a parachutist, he has racked up more than freefalls.

In terms of education, Musgrave has earned six graduate degrees in math, computers, chemistry, medicine, physiology and literature and has been awarded 20 honorary doctorates.

For more than 30 years, Dr. Musgrave was a NASA astronaut. During his tenure, he flew on six spaceflights. Over the course of these missions, he performed the first shuttle spacewalk on Challenger’s first flight, was a pilot on an astronomy mission, conducted two classified Department of Defense missions, was the lead spacewalker on the Hubble Telescope repair mission and operated an electronic chip manufacturing satellite on Columbia. His Earth-bound NASA highlights include serving as the communicator in Mission Control for 25 missions, working on the development of the Skylab program and participating in the design of all Space Shuttle extravehicular activity equipment. He also was a part-time trauma surgeon for the duration of his astronaut career.

Today he is a producer/director of multimedia, a landscape architect, a heavy equipment operator, an innovator with Applied Minds, Inc., and a professor of design at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.

Dr. Seth Shostak

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Delve into the Search for Extraterrestrial Life with Festival Speaker Dr. Seth Shostak.

Since 1995, nearly 2,000 planets have been found around other stars, but of even greater import is the newly learned fact that as many as one in five stellar systems could house an Earth-like planet. There is abundant real estate for – not just life – but intelligent life in the cosmos. So how have SETI researchers adjusted to this abundance of worlds? Are they still simply trying to tune in ET on the radio?

In his StarLight Festival presentation titled “Finding ET: The Search Today,” Dr. Seth Shostak will discuss current SETI efforts as well as some new approaches to finding company among the stars.

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Dr. Shostak is the Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, a nonprofit organization with a mission to “explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.” For much of his career, Dr. Shostak conducted radio astronomy research on galaxies, including studies using the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope. He has written, edited and contributed to a half dozen books, most recently Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and has published over 400 articles on astronomy and other topics. He also hosts the SETI Institute’s weekly science radio show, “Big Picture Science.”

Andre Bormanis

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Whether it is done in book, television or film format, science fiction has long-served as a launch pad for generations of astronomers, physicists and technology entrepreneurs. Many can trace the beginnings of their real-life passions for science to one of history’s most prolific sci-fi series – “Star Trek.” At the StarLight Festival, Andre Bormanis will talk about his work as a science advisor, writer and producer for the iconic franchise and the process of grounding fiction in scientific fact. He will also speak on his most recent endeavor as the science research director for the decidedly non-fiction series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.”

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Bormanis is a writer, consultant and television producer, most recently serving as the science research director for the Fox TV series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” which is based on Carl Sagan’s award-winning series.

 In 2010 and 2011, he worked as a writer and consultant for the Disney XD animated series “Tron: Uprising,” based on the feature film “Tron: Legacy.”  In 2009, he was a writer and supervising producer for the ABC Studios series “Legend of the Seeker.”  The previous year, he was a writer and producer on the CBS / Warner Brothers television series “Eleventh Hour,” and in 2005, for the CBS / Paramount television series “Threshold.”  Prior to “Threshold,” he was a writer / producer for the “Star Trek: Enterprise” television series, and science consultant for “Star Trek: Voyager,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” and the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” feature film series.  He has written stories and teleplays for both “Star Trek: Enterprise” and “Star Trek: Voyager,” is the author of a book, Star Trek Science Logs, published by Pocket Books in February 1998, and is a contributor to another book, New Worlds, New Civilizations, also published by Pocket Books. 

He wrote the narration for “Centered in the Universe,” a planetarium show currently running at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.  He has written numerous magazine articles for popular science publications including Sky & Telescope, Mercury, The Journal of Materials and The Colorado Plateau Journal. He also is a frequent contributor to the online space policy forum The Space Review.

Bormanis received a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Arizona, and a master’s degree in Science, Technology and Public Policy from George Washington University.  His master’s thesis, directed by Dr. John Logsdon, was entitled “A Program in Transition: Policy Aspect of U.S. Planetary Exploration.”

David H. Levy

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Explore the Wonder of Comets With Festival Speaker David H. Levy

For famed comet discoverer David H. Levy, comets are about much more than the science that surrounds them.

“Comets are composed of a lot of magic and a lot of passion,” he says. “They are unpredictable and gorgeous. They are things in literature, with the best writers having written over and over about bright comets.”

At the StarLight Festival, Levy will talk about his journey as a comet hunter and the wonders of the night sky as he headlines a discussion on comets moderated by Tim Hunter, an amateur astronomer and co-founder of the International Dark Sky Association.

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Over decades of observing, Levy has discovered or co-discovered a total of 23 comets. His prolific record includes the joint discovery of Shoemaker-Levy 9, which quickly went on to dramatically crash into Jupiter in 1994, and the individual discoveries of two periodic comets – P/1991 L3 and P/2006T1 – through his backyard telescope. In 2010, Levy became the first person to have discovered comets in three ways - visually, photographically and electronically.

Beyond his observation achievements, Levy has authored, edited or contributed to more than 30 books and has periodically provided articles for publications like Sky & Telescope and Parade Magazine. He is also the founder of the National Sharing the Sky Foundation, an outreach organization that seeks “to inspire people to appreciate the night sky and to promote an intelligent awareness about astronomy and its allied sciences.”

Stephen Ramsden - Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project

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Stephen W. Ramsden, founder of the world’s highest volume hands-on astronomy outreach program, will be presenting a whimsical and informative lecture (in American Southern dialect) on how the Sun affects aviation safety and terrestrial technology as a fusion between his 24 years as an Air Traffic Controller at the busiest facility in the world and his absolute passion for anything solar.   

Ramsden operates the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project (, a nonprofit 501c3 which delivers the Sun through high end narrowband equipment to over 50,000 people per year…IN PERSON!

Don’t miss Stephen’s outside hands on demonstration of Lunt Solar Systems equipment and FREE solar viewing glasses for everyone in attendance.


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Ellyne Kinney Spano

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Ellyne Kinney Spano to Focus on New NASA Asteroid Mission

What can an orbiting asteroid tell us about our solar system’s formative years? Can it reveal clues about the origins of life?

Developed as part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program and led by a team from the University of Arizona, the OSIRIS-REx mission will seek to answer questions like these and make space exploration history by visiting a carbonaceous asteroid, obtaining a sample from its surface and returning it to Earth for study. 

StarLight Festival attendees will have an opportunity to discover more about OSIRIS-REx, which is set to launch in 2016, and its target asteroid – Bennu – from mission team member Ellyne Kinney Spano, who will be a featured speaker at the event.

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Kinney Spano is the Image Processing Science Lead for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Her responsibilities on the mission are to define and develop the software and analysis tools to create properly corrected images from the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite. She also leads a team of OSIRIS-REx scientists to ensure that the image products that are created will be useful and relevant to the science objectives of the mission.

Kinney Spano has been fascinated with astronomy since a school field trip to the Dow Planetarium in Montreal, Canada. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics and started as a data analyst at Space Telescope Science Institute on the Hubble Space Telescope project. Since then, she has worked as an analyst and software engineer on several projects including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, NASA’s Ozone Monitoring Instrument and National Solar Observatory’s Advanced Technology Solar Telescope. She also served as the software lead of the Flight Dynamics Group at Intelsat Corporation in Washington, DC.

Scott Kardel

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What You Should Know About Light Pollution

Scott Kardel, Acting Executive Director for the International DarkSky Association, has made it his mission to defend and protect our disappearing nighttime environment from unnecessary artificial lighting.  He is well known for his light-hearted yet highly educational talks on the causes and effects of light pollution, and will speak in the STEM Room at the StarLight Festival on Saturday, May 24th at 1PM.

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Scott has always had a love for astronomy and the universe. Growing up in the desert on the edge of Tucson, Arizona gave him a strong connection to the sky and the environment. He used that connection first to become a high school earth science teacher, where he installed an observatory for his school.

After completing a Master’s Degree in astronomy from the University of Arizona, Scott took his passion for the stars to Kansas, where he served as assistant director for the Lake Afton Public Observatory. Prior to coming to IDA, Scott served for eight years as the public affairs coordinator for Palomar Observatory. He directed their public outreach program and was the observatory’s representative on light pollution issues. 


Mike Senna

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Mike Senna is a skilled prop maker hobbyist who makes a living as a computer programmer. He lives in Orange County, CA, with his wife and two children, ages 15 & 18. Mike helps lead an international R2 Builders Club & has filmed numerous tutorials on various aspects of building droids. He built his first R2-D2 in 2003 because he was looking for a challenge & wanted to bring joy to children. In 2010, he sought a new challenge as he spent 3 years building two fully functional, remote-controlled WALL-Es which were finished in 2013. 
Mike makes educational presentations to share how he built his creations and to encourage kids to pursue their education.

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Mike's R2-D2 made more than 100 appearances in its first 4 years, including mostly charity events, such as City of Hope, Make-a-Wish, and Downs Syndrome/Autism fundraisers. Has made hundreds of appearances throughout Southern California, as well as in Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Orlando and Montana. It has appeared on stage several times with Pacific Symphony orchestra and at numerous Legoland Star Wars weekends. R2-D2 has participated in weddings and met numerous celebrities. Mike's R2-D2 has been filmed for VH1, MTV, Access Hollywood, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and on Verizon and Toyota TV commercials. R2 appeared on the Lucasfilm float in the 2007 Tournament of Roses Parade, while Mike marched as a stormtrooper.
WALL-E has appeared 3 years at Maker Faire Bay Area, where it was filmed by Mythbuster's This video caught the attention of Yahoo, which later filmed an interview with Mike that appeared on the Yo Show on omg! from Yahoo. The video went viral and brought hundreds of emails from adoring fans around the world. Mike was interviewed on a live morning TV program in Bolivia. He has been invited to bring WALL-E around the world on numerous occasions. For now, he is happy to bring WALL-E to CHOC for quarterly visits, Muscular Dystrophy Association events, and many other charity functions.


Liz Harris

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The Pebble Plains Conservancy and Wildland Park Project

Elizabeth Harris is the President of the Big Bear Valley Education Trust, a non-profit organization that is spearheading the overall effort to promote greater public awareness, protection, and scientific study of the Pebble Plains, a rare habitat that can only be found in a small part of the San Bernardino mountains.  Liz will do a short presentation on the Pebble Plains and the efforts to conserve them, and will lead a field trip to the area immediately afterwards.  

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The Education Trust is providing leadership in the establishment of a park to protect, conserve and educate about the unique environmental occurrence called the Pebble Plain. This geologic formation only occurs in Big Bear and Holcumb Valleys and nowhere else in the world. As a result, the flora and fauna growing on the Pebble Plain is also unique to these areas and interested groups have joined together to insure that these plants and insects will be forever protected. The future vision of the park includes a boardwalk over the plains, interpretative trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. An environmental protection plan is currently underdevelopment and includes a scientific center for students from elementary school to college.

Utilizing the unique ecological resources of the Big Bear Valley, the Ed Trust brings educational opportunities to all members of and visitors to the Big Bear Valley through the development of place-based environmental curriculum, exploratory laboratories and field activities to inspire stewardship of the unique environmental resources in the Big Bear Valley. Through the acquisition of targeted properties in the Big Bear Valley, the Ed Trust will provide leadership in developing Big Bear centered outdoor educational opportunities